The French president visits the disaster area to show his support for those affected. Four former Lebanese prime ministers call for an independent investigation into the event, which has caused at least 137 deaths.
France will accompany Lebanon in its reconstruction after the devastating explosion in Beirut and will organise, “in the coming days,” an international conference to coordinate all international aid, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday at the end of his one-day visit to the Lebanese capital. But at the same time, he stressed, the authorities have to do their part and undertake “profound changes”, demonstrate a true will to reform and that they are capable of acting with transparency”. It is time for Lebanon and its leaders to assume their responsibilities” he said at a press conference in which he recalled that two years ago reforms were agreed in Paris in various sectors that are pending.
The president, who in addition to meeting with political leaders, has visited the port area destroyed by the explosion. He assured that this is the message he has received from the Lebanese. “I feel an infinite sadness, deep solidarity and I share the healthy anger that we have seen today,” he asserted after hearing the cries of protesters against the authorities in his path, at the same time that he insisted on the need for a “re-foundation of a new political order ”.
The Lebanon aid conference, for which there is no date yet, will seek to mobilise “international funding from Europeans, Americans, from all countries in the region and beyond to provide medicine, care, food,” he explained. The aid, he has limited, must be coordinated at least in the short term by the United Nations and the World Bank and will have to arrive, he insisted after a day in which he has made constant references to local corruption, directly to NGOs and teams on the ground “without opacity or possible detours”. “I will fight for international solidarity to arrive, but I cannot replace the responsibility of a sovereignly elected government,” Macron insisted. “The leaders, the political forces have to demonstrate their capacity to respond,” he added, without ruling out sanctions if the situation does not change.
“I ask Lebanese officials for firm commitments on the rule of law, transparency, freedom, democracy and the indispensable reforms. I believe you are capable” he said. According to the French president, who was received at the Beirut international airport by the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, it is also necessary to clarify the origin of the catastrophe and considers the demand for an international investigation “legitimate”, “open and transparent to prevent things are hidden” and “doubt” is installed.
France, like other countries, has already sent rescue and first aid personnel and medicines to the country’s capital. The Lebanese government has admitted that its ability to cope with the consequences of the catastrophe without outside help is “very limited,” as volunteers and rescue teams continue to search for missing people amid the chaos and rubble of the wide-area affected by Tuesday’s outbreak, and hospitals saturated by months of the COVID-19 pandemic treat thousands of injured.
“The capacity of the State is very limited, as is that of the central bank and the other banks. We are not swimming in dollars” Economy Minister Raoul Nehme told Sky News Arabia television. He also highlighted that many states have offered help in the face of damage that will run into the billions of dollars. The minister has assured that working with the International Monetary Fund is the only way out for Lebanon, which was already struggling with the dollar crisis and financial collapse before Tuesday’s explosion.
In the face of pressure to clarify the disaster that occurred after blowing up a tank containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, and with the anger and criticism of the growing political class among the population, the Executive has given this Thursday a deadline of four days for the investigation committee to determine who is responsible for the catastrophe. “Those responsible for this horrible crime by negligence will be punished,” said Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe, who has pointed to mismanagement of the tons of ammonium nitrate stored over the last six years in the capital’s port. Lebanese after being requisitioned.
On Wednesday, the Lebanese justice ordered the house arrest of those responsible for the port of Beirut without specifying the number of people involved or their identities.
After nine months of social protests and economic deterioration, the Lebanese government faces a distrustful population and an international community that is at least sceptical. Reforming the legal system, including training a body of independent judges, is precisely one of the main demands of protesters and the Beirut Lawyers Union.
In this context, four former prime ministers – Saad Hariri, Najib Miqati, Fuad Siniora and Tamman Salam – have called on the international community and the Arab League to lead the ongoing investigation and thus safeguard the impartiality of the process. They also emphasise the need for the Beirut port authorities to work together to preserve the scene of the incident and prevent it from being “altered.”
The organisation Human Rights Watch has joined the proposal for an independent investigation by international experts as the best “guarantee so that the victims of the explosion receive the justice they deserve.” France has offered to assist in the investigations, while French prosecutors have opened an investigation into the incident in which 24 of its nationals were injured.