French Macron announces fundraising conference for Lebanon

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Lebanese officials targeted in the investigation into the massive explosion that tore Beirut apart have sought to reject responsibility for the presence of explosives in the city’s port, and the visiting French president warned Thursday that without serious reforms, the country would “continue to sink”.Tuesday’s explosion, which appears to have been caused by an accidental fire that ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate in the port, passed through the Lebanese capital, killing at least 135 people, injuring more than 5,000 and causing destruction generalized. In addition to native Lebanese, the dead included Canadian and American citizens, as well as a German diplomat.

It may also have accelerated the coronavirus outbreak in the country, as thousands of people flocked to hospitals in the wake of the explosion. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to move in with relatives and friends after their homes were damaged, further increasing the risk of exposure.

French President Emmanuel Macron surrendered on Thursday amid widespread pledges of international aid, including from Canada. Switzerland confirmed that it had sent a team of specialists including engineers and logistics experts at Lebanon’s request, while Britain sent a Royal Navy ship to help with the cleanup and reconstruction efforts of the Harbor.

But Lebanon, which was already mired in a severe economic crisis, faces a daunting reconstruction challenge. It is unclear how much support the international community will offer the notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional government.

Macron, who saw the devastated port and was due to meet with senior Lebanese officials, said the visit was “an opportunity to have a frank and stimulating dialogue with Lebanese political powers and institutions.”

A young Lebanese hugs French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to the Gemmayzeh neighborhood, which suffered extensive damage from the massive explosion on Tuesday. (AFP / Getty Images)

He said France will work to coordinate aid, but warned that “if reforms are not made Lebanon will continue to sink.”

Later, while visiting one of the hardest hit neighborhoods, an angry crowd expressed their fury at Lebanese political leaders, chanting “Revolution” and “The people want to bring down the regime”, slogans used during the visit. mass protests last year.

Macron said he was not there to endorse the “regime” and vowed that French aid would not fall into “the hands of corruption”.

Macron said France will hold an international fundraising conference with donors from Europe, the United States, the Middle East and other donors to raise funds for food, medicine, shelter and other urgent aid. .

He pledged “clear and transparent governance” so that aid goes directly to the people and aid groups.

WATCH l CBC News Contributor Rebecca Collard describes the efforts of volunteers on the ground:

As volunteers attempt to clean up the rubble from the explosion in Beirut, the question becomes how Lebanon – a country already in financial crisis – is recovering. 1:31

Losses from the explosion are estimated at between 10 and 15 billion US dollars, Beirut governor Marwan Abboud told Saudi television station Al-Hadath on Wednesday, noting that nearly 300,000 people are homeless.

The head of the Lebanese customs service, meanwhile, confirmed in an interview with LBC TV on Wednesday evening that officials over the years had sent five or six letters to the judiciary asking that ammonium nitrate be phased out due to of the dangers it represented.

But Badri Daher said all he could do was alert authorities to the presence of hazardous materials, saying even this represented “extra work” for him and his predecessor. He said the port authority was responsible for the material, while its job was to prevent smuggling and collect fees.

The judiciary and the port authority could not be reached immediately for comment. The government said on Wednesday an investigation was underway and port officials had been placed under house arrest.

Mitigation of viruses is a secondary concern

The explosion investigation focuses on how 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, were stored at the port facility for six years, and why nothing was made about it.

The cargo had been stored at the port since it had been confiscated from a ship years earlier. Depending on the timing and size of the cargo, this vessel could be the MV Rhosus. The ship was initially seized in Beirut in 2013 when it entered the port due to technical issues, according to lawyers involved in the case. He came from the Georgian nation and was bound for Mozambique.

The site of Tuesday’s explosion in the Beirut port area is seen Thursday during Macron’s visit. (Aziz Taher / Reuters)

The stock is believed to have exploded after a fire broke out nearby in what appeared to be a warehouse containing fireworks. Daher, the customs officer, said he was not sure if there were fireworks near the site.

Another theory is that the fire started when welders attempted to repair a broken door and a hole in the wall of Hangar 12, where the explosive material was stored. According to local media, the repair work was ordered by security forces who investigated the facility and feared theft.

Anger is mounting against the various political factions, including the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group, which have ruled the country since the 1975-1990 civil war. The country’s longtime politicians are widely seen as hopelessly corrupt and unable to provide even basic services like electricity and garbage collection.

The Mediterranean country was already on the verge of collapse, with rising unemployment and a financial crisis that wiped out people’s life savings. Hospitals were already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, and one was so damaged by the explosion that it had to treat patients in a nearby field.

Dr Firas Abiad, director general of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the public hospital leading the fight against coronavirus, said he expects an increase in cases in the next 10 to 15 days linked to overcrowding in hospitals and blood donation centers after the explosion.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a capsized ship at the Port of Beirut. The massive explosion left entire city blocks covered in glass and rubble. (Mazar Technologies / The Associated Press)

Authorities had largely contained the outbreak by imposing a sweeping lockdown in March and April, but the number of cases has increased in recent weeks. A renewed lockdown was due to go into effect this week, but those plans were canceled after the explosion. The country has reported more than 5,400 coronavirus cases and 68 deaths since February.

“There is no doubt that our immunity in the country is lower than before the explosion and that will affect us in the medium and long term,” Abiad said. “We desperately need help, not only from ourselves but from all the hospitals in Lebanon.”

The explosion was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city. Several city blocks were left littered with rubble, broken glass and damaged vehicles.

Authorities cordoned off the port itself, where the explosion left a crater 200 meters in diameter and shredded a large grain silo, emptying its contents into rubble. It is estimated that around 85 percent of the country’s grain was stored there.

WATCH | Lebanese Canadians, charities seeking to help after the Beirut explosion:

Lebanese Canadians who have family or other ties to Beirut are looking for ways to help while waiting to hear from loved ones. Meanwhile, charities are trying to get food into the city, which has seen its main source of grain destroyed. 2:01

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