World leaders offer Beirut aid but join protesters’ demands for reform

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Lebanon was on edge Monday after enraged protesters and world leaders alike demanded political reform following last week’s deadly explosion and waited to see if they would get it.

Protesters took to the streets of Beirut again Sunday with video showing what appeared to be tear gas canisters being fired at demonstrators who had congregated in a street near the parliament.

The scenes of public fury came as world leaders pledged millions in emergency aid to the country’s explosion-ravaged capital in a teleconference co-organized by France and the United Nations.

Meanwhile, a trickle of lawmakers and three Cabinet ministers resigned, according to Lebanese media and news agencies, with speculation rife that this could be the beginning of a flood.

“Given the magnitude of the catastrophe caused by the Beirut explosion that shook the nation and hurt our hearts and minds, and in respect of the martyrs, and the pains of wounded, missing and displaced and in response to the public will for change, I resign from the government,” Lebanese Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad said Sunday.

If seven of the 20 ministers resign, the Cabinet would effectively have to step down and remain in place as a caretaker government, according to The Associated Press. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International reported that a cabinet meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon.

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Nearly a week after nearly 160 people were killed and thousands injured in the devastating explosion on Aug. 4, public anger shows no signs of abating.

The blast was triggered when a warehouse fire ignited hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, according to Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

It sent a shock wave that scarred the coastline of Beirut, destroying hundreds of buildings and leaving many homeless. The protesters blame the ruling elite for chronic mismanagement and corruption that is believed to be behind the explosion.

“You literally blew us up. We have nothing left to lose,” a group of protesters screamed at a demonstration on Saturday.

Protesters throw back the tear gas canisters Internal Security Forces fired from behind a wall at during a protest near the parliament in Beirut on Sunday. Daniel Carde / Getty Images

President Donald Trump was among the participants of the conference to coordinate a global response to the disaster, as well as leaders from Gulf Arab states, China and the European Union.

“The international community, Lebanon’s closest friends and partners, will not let Lebanese people down,” the chair of the conference said in a concluding statement on Sunday, according to the French mission to the U.N.

The participants agreed to help meet the immediate needs of Beirut and the Lebanese people through emergency assistance programs and agreed it would be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population.”

They warned that any support of the economic and financial recovery of the country would be contingent on Lebanese authorities committing to economic and political reforms demanded by the Lebanese people, according to the statement.

Last week’s blast, which sent a mushroom-like cloud into the sky above Beirut’s port, dealt a blow to a country already on its knees. Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis in its modern history and is afflicted by skyrocketing unemployment, rising prices and a plummeting Lebanese currency.

And the Lebanese were already angry.

Anti-government protests in recent months had called for an end to what they see as endemic corruption among the Lebanese political class, who reap the benefits of their office while ordinary citizens struggle to make ends meet.

Tuesday’s explosion rubbed salt into those old wounds, and created new ones.

The Associated Press contributed.





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