Macron tells Lebanon ‘you are not alone’ during visit to traumatized Beirut

Macron, surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 06 August 2020

Macron tells Lebanon ‘you are not alone’ during visit to traumatized Beirut

  • Macron meets crowds of distraught Lebanese as anger intensifies at political elite
  • Crowds vent their fury, shouting 'terrorist' leadership and chanting revolution

BEIRUT: French President Emmanuel Macron visited shell-shocked Beirut Thursday, pledging support and urging change after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury.
“Lebanon is not alone,” he tweeted on arrival before pledging Paris would coordinate international relief efforts after the colossal blast killed at least 137 people, wounded thousands and caused billions of dollars in damage.
But Macron also warned that Lebanon — already mired in a deep economic crisis, in desperate need of a bailout and hit by political turmoil — would “continue to sink” unless it implements urgent reforms.




Macron visiting the Gemayzeh neighborhood, which suffered extensive damage from the explosion. (AP photo)

Public anger is on the boil over the blast caused by a massive pile of ammonium nitrate that had for years lain in a ramshackle portside warehouse — proof to many Lebanese of the deep rot at the core of their state system.
Macron visited Beirut’s harborside blast zone, now a wasteland of blackened ruins, rubble and charred debris where a 140 meter wide crater has filled with sea water.
As Macron inspected a devastated pharmacy, angry crowds outside vented their fury at their “terrorist” leadership, shouting “revolution” and “the people want an end to the regime!“

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Macron’s visit to the small Mediterranean country, France’s Middle East protege and former colonial-era protectorate, was the first by a foreign head of state since Tuesday’s unprecedented tragedy.
Two days on, Lebanon was still reeling from a blast so huge it was felt in neighboring countries, its mushroom-shaped cloud drawing comparisons with the Hiroshima atom bomb.
“Apocalypse,” “Armageddon” — Lebanese were lost for words to describe the impact of the blast, which dwarfed anything the country had experienced in its violence-plagued history.
The deadly explosion left dozens more missing and a staggering 5,000 people wounded, many by flying shards of glass as windows imploded.

 

 

The death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers keep digging through the rubble.
Offering a glimmer of hope amid the carnage, a French rescuer said there was a “good chance of finding... people alive,” especially a group believed to be trapped in a room under the rubble.
“We are looking for seven or eight missing people, who could be stuck in a control room buried by the explosion,” the colonel told Macron as he surveyed the site.
Paris has spearheaded international mobilization in support of Lebanon, where flights carrying medical aid, field hospitals, rescue experts and tracking dogs have arrived since Wednesday.




Macron visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut. (Reuters)

Beirut’s governor estimated up to 300,000 people have been left temporarily homeless by the destruction, which he said would cost the debt-ridden country in excess of three billion dollars.
According to several officials, the explosion was caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored for years in the warehouse.
Even as they counted their dead and cleaned up the streets, many Lebanese were boiling with anger over a blast they see as the most shocking expression yet of their leadership’s incompetence.
“We can’t bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go,” said 30-year-old Mohammad Suyur as he picked up broken glass in Mar Mikhail, one of the worst-hit city districts.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits behind bars, but trust in institutions is low and few on Beirut’s streets held out hope for an impartial inquiry.
The disaster could reignite a cross-sectarian protest movement that erupted last October and had looked briefly like it could topple what activists consider a hereditary kleptocracy.
The euphoria had faded amid grinding economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic. But since the disaster, social media is once more rife with calls to kick out Lebanon’s widely reviled leaders.
“Lebanon’s political class should be on guard in the weeks ahead,” Faysal Itani of think-tank the Center for Global Policy wrote in The New York Times.
“Shock will inevitably turn to anger.”




 Macron walks with Lebanese President Michel Aoun upon his arrival at Beirut airport. (AFP)

Human Rights Watch supported mounting calls for an international probe into the disaster.
“An independent investigation with international experts is the best guarantee that victims of the explosion will get the justice they deserve,” the watchdog said.
In France, prosecutors have opened a probe into the blast over injuries suffered by 21 French citizens.
Amid the gloom and fury, the aftermath of the terrible explosion has also yielded countless uplifting examples of spontaneous solidarity.
Business owners swiftly took to social media, posting offers to repair doors, paint damaged walls or replace shattered windows for free.
Much of the cleanup has been handled by volunteers in improvised working groups who bring their own equipment and organize online appeals for help.
“We’re sending people into the damaged homes of the elderly and handicapped to help them find a home for tonight,” said Husam Abu Nasr, a 30-year-old volunteer.
“We don’t have a state to take these steps, so we took matters into our own hands.”


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.