French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut on Thursday, devastated by violent explosions killing at least 137 people and injuring 5,000, to meet Lebanese officials scolded by the population who demand accountability from them.
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Tuesday’s explosions, which officials said were caused by a fire in a warehouse housing a huge amount of ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut, also left some 300,000 homeless, in an economically bankrupt country where nearly half of residents were already living in poverty.
Mr. Macron, the first head of state to visit Lebanon since the tragedy, was greeted at Beirut international airport by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. “Lebanon is not alone,” he tweeted as soon as he arrived.
The French president is due to go to the site of the explosions, which damaged a good part of the capital, to meet with the main Lebanese officials and to give a press conference around 5.45 p.m. local time before returning to France.
Several countries including France have already dispatched rescue teams and equipment to deal with the emergency after the double explosion presented as accidental by the authorities which devastated the port and much of the capital.
After the blasts, the city’s governor, Marwan Abboud, described an “apocalyptic” situation. A state of emergency was declared for two weeks.
Invited on French radio Europe 1, the Lebanese diplomat Charbel Wehbé reported on Thursday the creation of a commission of inquiry “which has four days to give a detailed report on the responsibilities”. “There will be court decisions,” he said.
While the authorities have not put in place any device to shelter people who have lost their homes, hundreds of Lebanese have mobilized to launch operations to clear the rubble or welcome the homeless in the villages. private homes, in a vast outpouring of solidarity.
“If we had a real state, it would be on the streets since yesterday cleaning up. Where are they, ”laments Melissa Fadlallah, a volunteer sweeping up the rubble in Mar Mikhaël Street, famous for its bars and restaurants.
The explosion fueled the anger of the Lebanese who had pounded the pavement for weeks from October 2019 to express their fed up with politicians accused of corruption and incompetence.
The huge explosions, the worst experienced by Lebanon, were triggered according to the authorities by a fire that broke out in a warehouse that has housed some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for six years, “without precautionary measures”, according to the authorities. authorities. They practically destroyed the port and devastated entire districts of Beirut, blowing windows for miles around.
According to security sources, port authorities, customs and security services were all aware of hazardous chemicals being stored at the port but mutually denied responsibility for the matter.
Since the tragedy, the Lebanese have demanded accountability from those responsible and the hashtag “Hang them” circulating on Twitter.
In an open letter to President Macron, the National Bloc, a group that had participated in the popular uprising of October 17, called for international aid to the victims of the disaster to be distributed “by civil society organizations, some of which have demonstrated , unlike state institutions, their transparency and efficiency ”.
And a sign of the despair of the Lebanese, some have even circulated online a petition calling for … the return of the French mandate to Lebanon.
The tragedy struck a country plunged for months in a very serious economic crisis, marked by an unprecedented depreciation of its currency, hyperinflation, massive layoffs and drastic banking restrictions.
Its effects have been further aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, which in recent months has forced the authorities to confine its population for more than three months.
The UN Food and Agriculture Agency, FAO, now says it fears a problem with the availability of flour for Lebanon in the near future, as grain silos installed near the port have been gutted.
“Even with the coronavirus, and everything that has happened in the country, I have always had hope. But now it’s over, I have no hope, ”said Tala Masri, a volunteer, clearing the sidewalk of broken glass in a neighborhood near the port.