People disabled by Beirut explosion stage protest

People disabled by Beirut explosion stage protest
One woman said the port explosion was a “real crime, yet officials act as if nothing has happened.” (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 December 2020

People disabled by Beirut explosion stage protest

People disabled by Beirut explosion stage protest
  • Aug. 4 tragedy injured more than 6,500

BEIRUT: People disabled by the Aug. 4 Beirut Port explosion staged a sit-in on Thursday to protest against “injustice, corruption and marginalization.”

The protest took place in the Basta Al-Tahta neighborhood, where a disabled 87-year-old man called Tawfiq Khawam had set himself alight due to the poverty and neglect he faced. Protesters said they did not want “another Tawfiq Khawam.”

They gave vivid testimonies of the deprivation caused by their disabilities, calling for social protection that guaranteed them “basic rights and a decent living in light of the economic collapse.”

One woman said the port explosion was a “real crime, yet officials act as if nothing has happened.”

She urged the “inclusion of fixed standards for the rights of the injured who have suffered a physical disability in the process of rebuilding the destroyed buildings of Beirut,” and for the need to include the issues of the disabled in the reform plan and to treat people who were disabled as a result of the explosion and the army's wounded equally without discrimination.”

The spokeswoman for the protesters said Lebanon had issued a law about the rights of disabled people 20 years ago, but that parliament had not yet ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities despite 14 years passing since it was issued.

This, she added, was a sign of how Lebanese officials dealt with this category of citizens, who had become “victims of extreme poverty, dreaming of food and medicine and access to public places.”

The protest coincided with an official announcement that President Michel Aoun had signed a law to provide compensation and salaries to the families of the port explosion victims, and “enabling those who were disabled to benefit from health benefits from the National Social Security Fund and from the law related to the rights of people with special needs.”

A study from Beirut Arab University, in cooperation with the Lebanese Army Engineering Directorate and published on Thursday, showed that the blast resulted from the explosion of only 20.5 percent of the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that were stored near grain silos.

The study said the exploded amount of ammonium nitrate was “much less than the total original quantity, which is equivalent to 220 tons of TNT or the equivalent of 564 tons of ammonium nitrate.”

The judicial investigator has not issued his report, which is expected to reveal the reasons for the explosion.

The blast killed 202 people and injured more than 6,500, some of whom are still in hospital. It destroyed Beirut’s waterfront and inner residential neighborhoods, and came as the country was dealing with a financial crisis and COVID-19.

A British government minister warned on Thursday that Lebanon was on the verge of not being able to feed itself.

James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, called the situation “a man-made problem which could have been prevented.”

“The most pressing danger is the risk to food security: Lebanon is on the verge of not being able to feed itself,” said Cleverly, who met Lebanese officials in Beirut on Thursday. “Four months on from the blast, Lebanon is threatened by a silent tsunami. Lebanon's leaders must act.”

During a second international conference in support of Beirut and the Lebanese people, held on Wednesday at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the international community expressed concern about the delay in the investigation of the port explosion.

Participants said the commitments made regarding emergency aid since Aug. 4 had been fulfilled, in terms of quality and quantity, in all priority areas identified by the UN at the time.

The conference announced a multi-donor trust fund prepared by the World Bank, the UN and EU, to continue funding after the emergency humanitarian aid allocated after Aug. 4, provided that “an important role is given to civil society actors to identify priority areas of action, such as good governance, health, education, social protection, housing, culture and heritage.”

Participants also expressed their concern about the “deterioration of all economic, financial, monetary and social indicators, as the poverty rate increased from 28 percent to 55 percent within a 12-month period, which has now pushed many Lebanese to emigrate.”

They said that while Lebanon was in a state of financial bankruptcy, it could still be a successful country if the reforms that the population and international community expected were implemented quickly.
 


Lebanon MPs accuse Aoun of ‘acting as a party’

Deputies in the Lebanese Parliament have accused President Michel Aoun of acting “as a party, not as a president entrusted with the constitution.” (AFP/File Photo)
Deputies in the Lebanese Parliament have accused President Michel Aoun of acting “as a party, not as a president entrusted with the constitution.” (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 18 min 10 sec ago

Lebanon MPs accuse Aoun of ‘acting as a party’

Deputies in the Lebanese Parliament have accused President Michel Aoun of acting “as a party, not as a president entrusted with the constitution.” (AFP/File Photo)
  • Formation of opposition against Lebanese president depends on Christian bloc

BEIRUT: Deputies in the Lebanese Parliament have accused President Michel Aoun of acting “as a party, not as a president entrusted with the constitution.”

On Saturday, MP Anwar Al-Khalil said that Aoun’s media office’s statement on Friday “undermines the Lebanese people’s minds and destroys the hope of forming an important government. It is also a digression from obstinacy and stubbornness.”

Friday’s statement said Aoun was a “partner in choosing ministers and distributing ministerial portfolios.”

Al-Khalil reminded Aoun that “the constitution named you as president, a symbol of national unity and a protector of the constitution.”

“Your advisers are making you one team. Enough bickering! Support the whole country and save it from collapse,” Al-Khalil said.

Aoun defended himself and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), MP Gebran Bassil, against the accusation of obstructing the formation of a government, which raised tension between him and Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri.

MP Hadi Abu Al-Hassan said: “Hariri is faced with a crippling process in order to force him to resign.” He added that the president and the FPM “do not want the return of Hariri as prime minister without Bassil in the government.”

He criticized Aoun, saying: “The covenant is unconscious. It lives somewhere else, as attested to by all, and through his practices, he wants to monopolize everything.”

“The problem in the country is the non-presence of a conscious central authority that is aware of what is happening. It is absent and today, we are reaping what was sown,” he said.

Former MP Mustafa Alloush, who is also the Future Movement’s vice president, said the president’s objective was “to make Bassil afloat again and move the presidency to his son-in-law. It is not the rescue of the republic.”

Alloush said that the new government should “lend a helping hand to establishments and countries. Lebanon might be able to convince the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to have a loan, however, if that is not followed by CEDRE (Conference for Economic Development and Reform through Enterprises) and aid from the Gulf and the US, we will have increased our debt to the IMF.”

He said the other team, specifically Hezbollah, was not interested in the rescue operation. “Aoun and the FPM rely on Hezbollah to justify their stubbornness to obstruct the formation of the government, with the aim of making Bassil president.” He said Bassil was subjected to US and personal sanctions that were neither accepted by the Gulf nor internationally and “they are trying to impose a de facto government.”

On the calls to form an opposition against Aoun and his political team, Alloush said: “There is a lot of talk, but if these parties agree on the idea, they disagree on the details.”

Abdel-Sattar Al-Laz, adviser to former prime minister, Tammam Salam, told Arab News: “A meeting was held a while ago at Salam’s house. It included former heads of government, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, and addressed the possible scenarios to solve the stalemate in the country.”

Forming an opposition was difficult at the moment, Al-Laz said. “Any new opposition needs Christian and Shiite participation and cannot be limited to Sunni forces and a Druze party. There is a need for a Christian team such as the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb, and those have their personal agendas. The opposition cannot be formed of independent people. It is required to have driving forces with a real representation.”

“The ball is in the court of the Christian partner. Can they form an opposition against the president to ask for his removal or pressure him to resign? Such opposition should be headed by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai, and I rule out its formation since it will affect the position of the Maronite presidency. In that light, there is no hope except to wait for change in the region, otherwise, we are facing a dead end.”