Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, called on Thursday for the urgent formation of a new government in the first legislative session since the catastrophic explosion at Beirut Port. The explosion in the country’s capital, Beirut, last week left 172 dead, and pushed the country’s cabinet to resign.
Security forces have been extensively and heavily deployed across Beirut, stopping protesters from reaching a conference centre where MPs had convened. Many Lebanese are furious at a long entrenched political class they blame for the blast, accusing them of endemic corruption, mismanagement and negligence.
Senior US diplomat, David Hale, is expected in Beirut later on Thursday, to stress the urgent need for financial reforms and the stamping out of graft, among other messages, the US Embassy in Beirut said.
Authorities say the 4 August blast at a Beirut port warehouse was caused by the improper storage of over 2,700 tonnes of highly-explosive ammonium nitrate. The authorities added that the appropriate safety measures had not been taken over the six years the chemicals were in storage at the port.
The explosion injured some 6,000 people, and left around 300,000 Beirut residents without habitable housing. It also significantly damaged large swathes of the city, in a country already in the grips of a deep financial crisis. Some 30-40 people are still missing more than a week after the blast.
Outrage over the blast and the details that have since emerged has fuelled protests, in which hundreds of people have been injured in confrontations with security forces who fired tear gas.
Parliament approved a state of emergency declared by the now caretaker government, while the resignations of eight MPs who resigned following the blast were also confirmed.
State media said Berri, a long-time pillar of the sectarian elite, called at the session for a “speeding up the formation of a (new) government”.
But Berri also “wants to give a political message that parliament exists, despite all this talk about early elections and the resignations of MPs”, a senior political source said.
Humanitarian aid has poured into Lebanon, but foreign countries have made it clear they will not provide funds to help Lebanon avert economic collapse without action on long-demanded reforms to tackle state corruption and waste.
Authorities have estimated losses of $15bn, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, with the country already defaulting on its enormous sovereign debt in March. Foreign reserves are critically low, and talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have stalled.