Beirut explosion: World leaders pledge €250m as Lebanon cabinet ministers resign

Police fire tear gas to try to disperse demonstrators throwing rocks and blocking a road to parliament

Zoe Tidman
Monday 10 August 2020 00:36
Volunteers clean up rubble from the streets of Beirut after an explosion caused extensive damage in the city
Volunteers clean up rubble from the streets of Beirut after an explosion caused extensive damage in the city

Countries have pledged to give €252m (£228m) in emergency aid to Lebanon after an explosion devastated its capital, while two cabinet ministers resigned from the country’s government following mass protests.

International donors made the pledge in a virtual conference on Sunday – less than a week after a deadly blast in Beirut killed at least 158 people, injured more than 6,000 people and destroyed vast swathes of the city.

On the same day global figures came together to discuss the emergency aid, Lebanon’s information minister and environment minister announced they would be stepping down.

Manal Abdel Samad, the information minister, cited the explosion and the failure of the government to carry out reforms in her resignation.

Meanwhile, Damianos Kattar, the environment minister and a key ally to Prime Minister Hassan Diab, said the government had lost a number of opportunities to reform.

On the second day of protests, police on Sunday fired tear gas to try to disperse demonstrators throwing rocks and blocking a road to parliament. Protesters also broke into the housing and transport ministry offices.

“We gave these leaders so many chances to help us and they always failed,” Walid Jamal, an unemployed demonstrator, said.

The numbers of those out on the street was considerably less than Saturday’s demonstration, which saw thousands attend.

Anger against the government mounted after reports suggested that officials knew about the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for several years, but failed to take action.

But even before the blast, Lebanon had been rocked by mass rallies against the government decried as corrupt and culpable for the worst financial crisis to hit the country in decades.

The international donors on Sunday promised the aid will be delivered directly to the Lebanese people, insisting no money would go to the government amid fears of corruption.

The emergency aid will focus on medicine and hospitals, schools, food and housing.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the conference, said in his opening remarks that the UN in Lebanon should coordinate the international response to the disaster which devastated Beirut.

“Our task today is to act swiftly and efficiently, to coordinate our aid on the ground so that this aid goes as quickly as possible to the Lebanese people,” Mr Macron said on the video call.

“Our role is to be by their sides. Lebanon’s future is at stake,” he added.

The French president also said international assistance would include supporting an impartial and independent inquiry into the blast on 4 August.

During the conference, which included international leaders and government officials, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister also called for a “transparent and independent investigation” into the explosion.

Donald Trump told participants the US was ready to continue providing aid to help the Lebanese, according to the White House.

The blast destroyed swathes of the city, leaving more than a quarter of a million people homeless.

The economic effects of the incident are expected to be significant, with some economists forecasting that Lebanon’s GDP could fall by as much as 25 per cent as a result.

The UK’s international development secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, has pledged another £20m to “stand by the Lebanese people” on Sunday, on top of the £5m the UK has already promised.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, announced on Sunday that his country would give an extra €10m (£9m) to Lebanon.

As part of his statement, Mr Maas said Lebanon had faced “overwhelming challenges” before the explosion, adding that there will be a lot to do “even after the worst of the rubble is removed”.

France has offered 18 tonnes of medical aid and 663 tonnes of food, while the US Agency for International Development said it will give $15m (£12m) directly to those who need it most in Beirut, rather than to the Lebanese government.

Additional reporting from agencies

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