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Lebanese call for downfall of president, other officials over Beirut blast

A picture of Lebanese President Michel Aoun hangs on barbed-wire on the road leading to the Presidential Palace in Baabda, on the eastern outskirts of Beirut on 13 November, 2019 [ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images]
A picture of Lebanese President Michel Aoun hangs on barbed-wire on the road leading to the Presidential Palace in Baabda, on the eastern outskirts of Beirut on 13 November, 2019 [ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images]

Angry and grieving demonstrators on Tuesday read aloud the names of at least 171 people killed in last week’s explosion at Beirut port and called for the removal of Lebanon’s president and other officials they blame for the tragedy.

Gathered near “ground zero”, some carried pictures of the victims as a large screen replayed footage of the mushroom cloud that rose over the city last Tuesday after highly-explosive material stored for years detonated, injuring some 6,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

HE KNEW. A government goes, a government comes; we will continue until the president and the parliament speaker are removed,

was written across an image of President Michel Aoun on a poster at the protest venue.

Reuters reported that the president and prime minister were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.

Aoun, who has pledged a swift and transparent investigation, tweeted on Tuesday: “My promise to all the pained Lebanese is that I will not rest until all the facts are known.”

Residents of Beirut were still picking up the pieces as search operations continued for 30 to 40 people still missing and security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the fourth such day of unrest.

“Our house is destroyed and we are alone,” said Khalil Haddad. “We are trying to fix it the best we can at the moment. Let’s see, hopefully, there will be an aid and, the most important thing: hopefully the truth will be revealed.”

READ: Lebanon’s government was told about explosion threat weeks before Beirut blast

Lebanese have not been placated by Monday’s resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government and are demanding the removal of what they see as a corrupt ruling class they blame for the country’s woes.

“We will not forget until nooses are erected (for the leaders),” said one man at Tuesday’s demonstration after he read out some of the victims’ names shown on the screen.

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 ravaged the currency, paralysed the banking system and sent prices soaring.

“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.

For many Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste, and dysfunctional government.

OPINION: Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis

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