BEIRUT (Reuters) — Angry Lebanese said the government’s resignation on Monday did not come near to addressing the tragedy of last week’s Beirut explosion and demanded the removal of what they see as a corrupt ruling class to blame for the country’s woes.
A protest with the slogan “Bury the authorities first” was planned near the port, where highly explosive material stored for years detonated on Aug. 4, killing at least 163 people, injuring 6,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, announcing his cabinet’s resignation, blamed endemic graft for the explosion, the biggest in Beirut’s history and which compounded a deep financial crisis that has collapsed the currency, paralyzed the banking system and forced up prices.
“I said before that corruption is rooted in every juncture of the state but I have discovered that corruption is greater than the state,” he said, blaming the political elite for blocking reforms.
Talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled amid a row between the government, banks and politicians over the scale of vast financial losses.
“It does not end with the government’s resignation,” said the protest flyer circulating on social media. “There is still [President Michel] Aoun, [Parliament Speaker Nabih] Berri and the entire system.”
For many Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional government.
The Beirut port mirrors the sectarian power system in which the same politicians have dominated the country since the 1975-90 civil war. Each factions has its quota of directors at the port, the nation’s main trade artery.
“It’s a good thing that the government resigned. But we need new blood or it won’t work,” silversmith Avedis Anserlian told Reuters in front of his demolished shop.
Aoun is required to consult with parliamentary blocs on who should be the next prime minister, and is obliged to designate the candidate with the most support.
Forming a government amid factional rifts has been daunting in the past. Now with growing public discontent and the crushing financial crisis, it could be difficult to find someone willing to be prime minister.
Meanwhile, residents of Beirut continued to pick up the pieces as search operations for those still missing went on. Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of US$15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay.
Ihsan Mokdad, a contractor, surveyed a gutted building in Gemmayze, a district a few hundreds meters from the port.
“As the prime minister said, the corruption is bigger than the state. They’re all a bunch of crooks. I didn’t see one MP visit this area. MPs should have come here in large numbers to raise morale,” he said.
Reporting by Beirut bureau; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Giles Elgood
Image: A view of graffiti at the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay