Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he is ready to stay in office for two months until political leaders agree on a national scheme for the next period, following the huge Beirut port explosion.
During a press conference on Saturday, Diab also said that he will propose holding early parliamentary elections during the next cabinet meeting on Monday.
“I call on all political parties in Lebanon to agree on a unified position regarding the country’s next stage,” Diab said.
He added, “The Beirut port catastrophe is the result of years of corruption and mismanagement, and Lebanon is currently living under disaster conditions following the port explosion.”
Diab also said that the ongoing investigation into the explosion will reveal the full facts, with all officials to be interrogated over the incident. He noted that the investigation process will not take long. Recent measures taken by Lebanon’s judicial authorities have shown seriousness in dealing with the situation.
The prime minister’s remarks came as the Lebanese Red Cross reported that 172 protestors were injured in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Beirut. The international aid agency added that 55 of those injured were transferred to hospitals.
Moreover, the protestors have stormed the headquarters of the country’s Economy, Environment, and Foreign Ministries, as well as the headquarters of the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL).
Earlier on Saturday, thousands of angry Lebanese protested against their political leadership, following the huge explosion that killed more than 150 people and caused extensive damage to the capital, Beirut.
Saturday’s protests follow those which occurred on Thursday evening near the Parliament, in which police fired teargas to disperse protestors.
The protesters gathered at the Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut, which became a hub for anti-government protests last year which forced the resignation of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. It is expected that these new protests will renew calls to overthrow the country’s political system.
Dozens of civilians have taken to Beirut’s streets as part of a widespread clean-up effort following the explosion last Tuesday. The volunteers also visited several neighbourhoods across the Lebanese capital to help clean apartments of glass and other debris from the damage.
The explosion caused the displacement of as many as 300,000 residents of Beirut whose homes were cracked or severely damaged, including 100,000 children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Over 60 people are still missing, with the death toll now reportedly stands at 154, including 25 who have not yet been identified, a Lebanese Ministry of Health official said on Saturday.
On Friday, the country’s Minster of Health, Hamad Hasan, said that at least 120 of the 5,000 people who were injured on Tuesday are in critical condition.
A total of 43 Syrian nationals died in the huge explosion. Moreover, the bodies of three Egyptians, who were also killed in the incident, were repatriated to Egypt, on Saturday, for burial in their respective hometowns.
Early on Saturday, Secretary-General of Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the international community must provide support by all available means, as part of the efforts to alleviate the crisis resulting from the explosion.
During a press conference in Beirut, Aboul Gheit indicated his intention to put forward a proposal to the Arab League to support Lebanon, stressing that the situation is “difficult and complicated.”
He also expressed his readiness to provide assistance to the investigations into the explosion.
Lebanon’s judicial authorities have already started investigating the explosion, which the authorities said was caused by the improper storage of 2,750 tonne of ammonium nitrate at the Beirut port for six years.
As rescuers desperately combed the rubble for survivors, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun rejected any international probe into the catastrophic blast, saying a missile or negligence could have been responsible.
He pledged “swift justice”, but rejected widespread calls for an international probe, telling a reporter he saw it as an attempt to “dilute the truth.”
“There are two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb,” he said. Aoun’s comments represent the first time a top Lebanese official has raised the possibility that the port had been attacked.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, arrived in Beirut, on Saturday, the EU official’s visit coinciding with that of Aboul Gheit’s. A further delegation of high-ranking Turkish officials, headed by Turkish Vice President Fuad Aktay, is also currently in Lebanon to review the damage and offer support.
The spate of international visits comes two days after a landmark visit by French President Emmanuel Macron. Diplomatic activity has intensified in Beirut as a worldwide effort is underway to organise international support for the disaster-hit country.
An aid conference is set to occur on Sunday to raise funds and provide further assistance to Lebanon, with several countries already having confirmed their readiness to assist Lebanon in the wake of the explosion.