Two Lebanese ministers quit as global powers gather to discuss aid

A wounded woman being evacuated after a massive explosion rocked downtown Beirut. Photo: PTI
Two Lebanese ministers resigned a day after deadly protests against the government’s role in last week’s devastating blast in Beirut, as global leaders gathered to discuss aid to the country.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad submitted her resignation “in response to the public calls for change,” she said in a televised press conference on Sunday. Environment Minister Damianos Kattar also resigned on Sunday, according to Tele-Liban state television. Six lawmakers have resigned since last week.Outrage over the Aug. 4 explosion at the port is running high in Lebanon and beyond, with protesters demanding regime change and for the the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab to resign. The blast killed more than 150 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed large parts of the capital. It also came at a time when Lebanon is reeling under its worst financial meltdown and political crisis in decades.

Global leaders including US President Donald Trump are participating in Sunday’s conference, which is co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and the United Nations. Macron is trying to help the Lebanese people without endorsing the political class that led the country -- once under a French mandate -- into financial meltdown through decades of corruption and mismanagement.

“The Lebanese authorities must now implement the political and economic reforms demanded by the Lebanese people and which will enable the international community to act effectively alongside Lebanon in the reconstruction process,” Macron said at the opening of the conference.

Three decades after the end of the of a 15-year civil war, the country remains divided along sectarian lines. The government, backed by the pro-Iranian militant Hezbollah group and its allies, has struggled to carry out reforms demanded by the international community as the price for a financial bailout. Former Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti, who resigned just prior to the explosion, warned the country was at risk of becoming “a failed state.”

Lebanon has arrested 20 people since the blast, which was caused by 2,750 tons of explosive materials left for six years at the country’s main port despite repeated safety warnings. Most of those arrested were port officials and protesters continue to demand accountability at the highest levels.

Anti-government demonstrators in Beirut on Saturday managed to gain entry to the ministries of foreign affairs, economy and energy as well as the Association of Banks in Beirut. The army evacuated them at the end of a long day of street confrontations in which dozens of protesters were injured.

Participants in the aid conference include the UK, Germany, the European Union and the World Bank, as well as Gulf states Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a French official told reporters Saturday. No estimate was given for the size of the aid package and the official said there would be “no blank check to the Lebanese government,” with pledges channeled through the EU, World Bank and UN to ensure that local NGOs and the Lebanese Red Cross gets funds.

Qatar earmarked $50 million in aid to Lebanon and will unveil plans to help rebuild Beirut in the coming days, the country’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said on Al Jazeera TV.

Dear Reader,

Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.

We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel