Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast
Prime Minister Hassan Diab announcing his government's resignation amid popular outrage over the deadly Beirut port explosion. (AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast
  • Prime Minister Hassan Diab says blast was caused by endemic corruption
  • Demonstrations break out again in central Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government resigned on Monday less than a week after a massive blast in Beirut, with the prime minister telling the nation in a televised address that the scale of the tragedy was “too great to describe.”

The explosion of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate at a warehouse in the Port of Beirut has killed at least 160, injured thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the capital.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office last December, was already under pressure for the lack of progress in resolving the country’s dire financial and economic situation. Last week’s huge explosion intensified accusations of corruption, incompetence, negligence against the political elite.  

Read more: Analysis: Lebanon government steps down. So what?

In his address on Monday evening Diab spoke of “a system of corruption” that was rooted in the state.

“Rather, corruption is greater than the state, and it is not possible to confront this system or get rid of corruption.”

He said that the blast was “one of the examples of corruption in Beirut” and that the scale of the tragedy was “too great to describe.”

But he also appeared to shift the blame for his government’s inability to resolve the many challenges facing the country, saying that others were responsible for the lack of progress and reform.

“Between us and change, a very thick wall is protected by a class that resists with all dirty methods in order to control the state. We fought fiercely and with honor, but this battle has no equivalence.”

Communications continued throughout Sunday night by President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to discourage some ministers from submitting their resignations after the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad on Saturday.

On Sunday, Diab linked the government's resignation to the approval of a bill to shorten parliament’s term and call for early elections. It was a response to an announcement from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for parliament to convene on Thursday to hold the government accountable for the port disaster.

The blast was one of the examples of corruption in Beirut ... the scale of the tragedy is too great to describe.

Hassan Diab, Prime minister of Lebanon

Diab called Aoun on Monday and requested that the Council of Ministers’ session that was scheduled at the Presidential Palace be transferred to government headquarters, giving the impression that all efforts had failed to prevent the government from collapsing.

Samad, as well as Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, did not attend the session. Lebanon’s Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm attended the session and announced her resignation before it began.

She said: “Given the tragedy that afflicted the nation and the pain of the Lebanese, and what we witnessed in terms of street unrest and reactions that came confirming that Lebanon entered the stage of intensive care and has become requiring assertive stances to preserve community peace and avoid losing more lives and property, I submit my resignation from the government.”

Some ministers had their resignations on standby upon entering the Cabinet session, stressing that they would resign if the government did not collectively quit.

Iran has also pressured Lebanon.

Iranian Embassy spokesman, Abbas Al-Mousawi, said in a press conference from Tehran: “The explosion should not be used as a pretext for political goals, and the cause of the explosion must be carefully investigated. The US should also lift the sanctions imposed on Lebanon.”

The leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, feared that any new government would be similar to the previous one. He added: “The aim is to go to the core of the problem, that is, parliament.”

Diab was assigned to lead the government on Dec. 19, 2019, following street protests that toppled the government of his predecessor Saad Hariri.

His government won the confidence vote of parliament on Feb. 11 with the support of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement. The Lebanese Forces, Future Movement and Progressive Socialist parties did not take part in the vote.

His administration, which called itself a government of specialists, was given three months to achieve the reforms required to negotiate an IMF rescue deal to stave off the economy’s collapse.

But criticism of the government's performance soared after the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut, sparking outrage on the streets.

Public Works Minister Michel Najjar said upon leaving the last Cabinet session that he had “learned about the issue of storing ammonium nitrate in the port 24 hours before the explosion.”

Najm suggested referring the port explosion to the Judicial Council, which is the highest Lebanese judicial body. Its rulings are final.

The opposition has insisted on an international investigation into the blast due to a “lack of confidence in the local judiciary,” a demand rejected by the president.

Attorney General Judge Ghassan Oweidat on Monday continued his supervision of the investigations. There have been 19 arrests so far, including two former and current directors of customs and the director of the port.

Oweidat transferred those arrested on charges of negligence and causing harm to the Military Court to block any release, as the period of preventive detention usually does not exceed four days.

He instructed the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces to go to Cyprus to hear the testimony of the owner of the vessel that was transporting the ammonium nitrate to Mozambique but unloaded its cargo seven years ago in the Port of Beirut.

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The investigations are focusing on the pre-explosion phase, specifically between 2013 and 2020, when the ammonium nitrate was stored in Ward No.12 inside the port, and the circumstances of the explosion.

On Monday, Lebanese Army Command announced: “The rescue teams of the army, in cooperation with the Civil Defense teams, the fire brigade, and the Russian and French search and rescue teams, were able to retrieve five bodies of the victims of the blast, and the search for the remaining missing will continue.”




The funeral in Batroun of Lebanese army corporal Estephan Rouhana, who was killed in the Beirut explosion. (AFP)

 


Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
Updated 18 min 53 sec ago

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
  • Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors
  • At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day

DUBAI: Israel announced it will further ease its coronavirus measures from Sunday, national daily The Jerusalem Post reported.
Students between grades seven and 10 will attend classes physically in green, yellow and orange cities, the report said.
The country’s “traffic system” has identified “green” cities as those with lowest COVID-19 cases, while the second lowest infection rates are “yellow,” followed by “orange” and “red.”
Israel had also required people entering cafes, restaurants and hotels to submit a green passport, which can be obtained through the health ministry for anyone who has taken the two shots of the coronavirus vaccine for at least a week.
But “children below the age of 16, who are not allowed to be vaccinated, will not be able to accompany their vaccinated parents,” the report added.
Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors.
Non-vaccinated people can only sit outside. Hotels will also reopen, allowing holders of the passport to access a wide range of activities.
At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day.
New arrivals will be required to quarantine and must present a negative COVID-19 test result and be tested on arrival.
Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center has warned that the country may witness another outbreak, as around 5 percent of Israel’s population have tested positive each day.
The health ministry said more than 4.9 million people have taken at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 3.6 million who have already taken their second shot.
More than half of the country’s 9 million-strong population have already received the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine since the inoculation drive began in December.
Israel has registered more than 796,000 cases of Covid-19, including over 5,800 deaths.


Sisi to visit Sudan, will hold talks on Ethiopia’s dam

Sisi to visit Sudan, will hold talks on Ethiopia’s dam
Updated 50 min 8 sec ago

Sisi to visit Sudan, will hold talks on Ethiopia’s dam

Sisi to visit Sudan, will hold talks on Ethiopia’s dam

CAIRO: Egyptian president Abdel Fattah-al Sisi will hold talks over Ethiopia's Blue Nile mega-dam during his visit to Sudan on Saturday, according to the Egyptian presidency.  


LIVE: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani on day two of Iraq visit

LIVE: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani on day two of Iraq visit
Updated 4 min 23 sec ago

LIVE: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani on day two of Iraq visit

LIVE: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani on day two of Iraq visit
  • Pope’s visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability

DUBAI: Pope Francis has left the home of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric in southern Iraq on Saturday after the first meeting between the leaders of Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam.
The Shiite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, met the Pope at his home in Najaf, the seat of the Iraqi Shiite clergy, on the second day of the pontiff’s historic tour of Iraq.
Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and made a speech in which he called for an end to extremism, violence and corruption.
The head of the Catholic church began the first-ever papal trip to the country by meeting government officials in Baghdad, before traveling to a church where Christians were massacred by militants in 2010.
Pope Francis was greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi before meeting with President Barham Salih at the Presidential Palace.
His visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability after years of sectarian conflict, the Daesh occupation, chronic corruption, and widespread anger at government officials for failing to provide basic services.
At Our Lady of Salvation church, he paid tribute to the 58 people who were killed in an extremist attack in 2010, one of the deadliest targeting Christians.

Follow live coverage of his second day itinerary below... (All times GMT)

0905: Pope Francis attends an inter-religious meeting at the Plain of Ur during day two of his apostolic tour of Iraq.

0828: Top Shiite cleric Ali Al-Sistani has told Pope Francis that Iraq Christians should live in ‘peace’, a statement from his office said.

Al-Sistani ‘affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,’ the statement office said.

For its part, the Vatican said Francis thanked Al-Sistani and the Shiite people for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.
He said Al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”

Doves are released to mark Pope Francis’s private meeting Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani at his home in Najaf. (Vatican Media)

0800: Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. He is expected to depart for Nassiriya to lead an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur in southern Iraq, revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Pope will afterwards return to Baghdad.

Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. (Screenshot)

0605: Pope Francis arrives in Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s home Najaf.

The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt.

0445: Pope Francis departs from Baghdad and will travel by plane to the cities of Najaf and Ur.

- with agencies

READ MORE

Go to Arab News’ dedicated In Focus section on the Pope's visit to Iraq for coverage of the historic trip. Click here.

 

 


Bad weather blamed for deadly military helicopter crash

Bad weather blamed for deadly military helicopter crash
Updated 06 March 2021

Bad weather blamed for deadly military helicopter crash

Bad weather blamed for deadly military helicopter crash
  • Akara and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu took teams of senior military figures to the crash site in the southeastern Bitlis province on Thursday

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akara has blamed bad weather for a military helicopter crash that killed 10 soldiers and a senior commander in the country’s restive southeast.
Lt. Gen. Osman Erbas, who headed the army’s 8th Corps based in the eastern Elazig province, was among those killed in Thursday’s accident.
The crash was the deadliest since 13 soldiers died in the southeastern Sirnak province near Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq in 2017.
“Based on initial information and witnesses’ statements, we determined that the accident occurred due to suddenly changing adverse weather conditions,” the Anadolu state news agency quoted the defense minister as saying.
Akara and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu took teams of senior military figures to the crash site in the southeastern Bitlis province on Thursday.
Defense officials said a formal investigation into the incident had been launched.
The EU and the US immediately offered their condolences to the NATO ally.

FASTFACT

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also expressed his support in in a telephone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

A Turkish diplomatic source said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also expressed his support in in a telephone call with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The accident occurred in a region where Turkish forces have been conducting military operations against outlawed Kurdish militias since 1984 in a campaign that has killed tens of thousands.
Turkey also provides a vital staging post as well as defenses in the fight against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
But its relations with EU members states such as France and Greece have been rocked by a range of regional disputes.


Pro-Kurdish party says it will regroup if hit by court ban

Pro-Kurdish party says it will regroup if hit by  court ban
The HDP has dismissed accusations that it is linked to militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU. (Supplied)
Updated 06 March 2021

Pro-Kurdish party says it will regroup if hit by court ban

Pro-Kurdish party says it will regroup if hit by  court ban
  • Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of HDP party officials and ousted dozens of its elected mayors and lawmakers in a crackdown in recent years

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said on Friday it would keep campaigning under a different banner if a court outlawed its current organization over alleged links to militants.
Officials told Reuters this week that Turkey’s top appeals court had launched an enquiry into the HDP, the third largest party in parliament, in a step that could ultimately lead to a ban.
“We as the HDP have B and C plans of course. If the HDP is shut down of course we have our own preparations. We come from such a tradition which has always had parties being shut down,” HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan told a meeting with foreign media.
“We have until now continued to fight on by establishing other parties after a party is shut down. It will be like that in the future,” she said, without providing further details.
The HDP has dismissed accusations that it is linked to militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU.
Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of HDP party officials and ousted dozens of its elected mayors and lawmakers in a crackdown in recent years.
The pressure on the HDP intensified last month after Ankara said the PKK had executed 13 prisoners, including Turkish military and police personnel, during an army operation to rescue them in Iraq’s Gara region.
The moves against the HDP came as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party came to power since 2002, announced on Tuesday an “action plan” to boost human rights.