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Lebanese Government Resigns in Wake of Protests After Beirut Blast

© AP Photo / Hussein MallaNewly-assigned Lebanese Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, center, greets journalists upon his arrival to meet with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.
Newly-assigned Lebanese Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, center, greets journalists upon his arrival to meet with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. - Sputnik International
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The move comes following days of protests and clashes between police and demonstrators in the aftermath of the August 4 ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut's port, with critics accusing authorities of ignoring the danger posed by the hazardous material for many years. Thousands of residents of the capital have taken to the streets in recent days.

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab has resigned, Health Minister Hamad Hassan announced on Monday.

"The whole government resigned," Hassan said, speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting. Diab will make his way to the presidential palace to formally inform Michel Aoun and "hand over the resignation in the name of all the ministers," Hassan added.

Diab and his cabinet will now continue work as a caretaker government until a new administration can be formed. The prime minister was expected to make a television address later Monday.

On Saturday, Diab called for new parliamentary elections to take place, saying the country could not escape the current "structural crisis" without a fresh election. New elections will require parliamentary approval. Under Lebanon's confessionalism-based system, the prime minister (a Sunni) is formally appointed by the president (a Marronite Christian).

The government's collective resignation follows announcements earlier by the information, environment and justice ministers that they would be resigning amid the protests which continue to overwhelm central Beirut.

Short Lived PM

Diab was appointed prime minister in January 2020, succeeding long-time PM Saad Hariri of the Hariri political dynasty. Diab's short time in office has been racked with instability, starting with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, as well a bank collapse and default in March, and culminating in the August 4 ammonium nitrate explosion at Beirut's port.

The ammonium nitrogen was shipped to Beirut's port in 2013 aboard a derelict Moldova-registered cargo ship on route from Georgia to Mozambique, and abandoned by the Cyprus-based businessman who owned it after being determined to be unsafe to operate. In the years that followed, local officials and courts squabbled over the dangerous cargo, which was removed from the ship and placed in a warehouse at the port. Efforts to hand the ammonium nitrate to the military or sell it proved unsuccessful.

Deadly Protests

Protesters took to the streets of Beirut last week, and starting Saturday, have engaged in heavy clashes with police and the army which have left dozens injured and at least one police officer dead. The demonstrations have included fighting for government ministry buildings, with a group of army veterans attempting to establish a 'headquarters of the revolution' in the foreign ministry building Saturday night.

A Lebanese protester speaks to soldiers at the headquarters of the Lebanese association of banks in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. - Sputnik International
Lebanon: US Embassy Sides With ‘Peaceful’ Beirut Rioters as Anger Grows Over Port Explosion
The US Embassy in Lebanon sided with the protesters on Saturday, tweeting that "the Lebanese people have suffered too much and deserve to have leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability," and adding that the US supports them "in their right to peaceful protest."

Iran, which maintains close relations with Lebanese political and militant group Hezbollah, has urged countries to refrain from politicizing the August 4 explosion, and suggested that the US should lift its sanctions against Lebanon if it is "honest about its assistance offer" to the country. On Sunday, US President Donald Trump said Washington would help with an investigation if asked.

Both Hezbollah and President Aoun have said that the investigation into the ammonium nitrate disaster should be kept in the hands of Lebanese authorities, while some opposition forces have demanded that international actors take over. Aoun said Friday that he is not ruling out external interference as a cause of the explosion, saying it's possible that it may have been caused by a missile or bomb.

The August 4 blast left over 200 people dead, with approximately 6,000 others injured and as many as 300,000 others left without shelter. The explosion destroyed much of the port area and blocks around it, and shattered glass and caused other damage to thousands of other buildings. Explosives experts estimate that the 2,750 kg of ammonium nitrate at the port caused a blast with an explosive force equivalent to that of a small nuclear bomb.

Rights Group Conditionally Welcomes Elections

Romanos Raad, ambassador at large with the International Human Rights Commission, a Lebanon-based inter-governmental endowment fund, has told Sputnik that early elections would be "a very good idea," but only "after after the prime minister sends all the suspects of government corruption for investigation because in this way they can not use the powers and money to navigate the new elections according to their benefits. In this way the people will understand and wake up to see more clearly who they will elect in the future," he suggested.

However, Dr. Mohammad Marandi, a Tehran-based academic and political analyst specializing in Middle East affairs, has argued that the opposition would likely lose new elections, "because they were the dominant force in government for years and bear most of the responsibility for what happened in the port." This, he said, "is why they have chosen to push for violence in the streets."

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