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Lebanese government resigns as fury over deadly explosion deepens political crisis

The move comes after enraged protesters and world leaders alike demanded political reform following the Aug. 4 blast that killed almost 160 people and injured thousands more.
Image: Lebanon's PM Diab is pictured at the government palace in Beirut
Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks at the government palace in Beirut on Aug. 10, 2020.Mohamek Azair / Reuters

Lebanon's government resigned Monday as the fallout from last week's deadly explosion deepened a political crisis in the country’s blast-ravaged capital.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would resign along with all of his ministers.

"We will back down and stand with the people. We need to open the door for the people," he said in a televised address to the nation before presenting his resignation to President Michel Aoun.

The move comes after enraged protesters and world leaders alike demanded political reform following the Aug. 4 blast that killed almost 160 people and injured thousands more.

Protesters took to the streets of Beirut again Sunday with video showing what appeared to be tear gas canisters being fired at demonstrators who had congregated in a street near the parliament.

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Diab blamed politicians who preceded him for the “earthquake” that has hit Lebanon.

"This disaster which has hit the Lebanese at the core, occurred as a result of chronic corruption in politics, administration and the State," he said in a televised address.

The former professor said his government had failed in his battle against corruption.

"They knew that we pose a threat to them, and that the success of this government means a real change in this long-ruling class whose corruption has asphyxiated the country."

There will now be negotiations in parliament as to who will be the next prime minister amid calls for widespread economic and political reform. These negotiations could take weeks or even months, according to Karim Makdisi, an associate professor at the American University of Beirut, or could be very quick if an agreement has already been made behind closed doors.

Last week’s blast, which sent a mushroom-like cloud into the sky above Beirut’s port, dealt a blow to a country already on its knees.

The blast was triggered when a warehouse fire ignited hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, according to Diab.

It sent a shock wave that scarred the coastline of Beirut, destroying hundreds of buildings and leaving many homeless.

Nearly a week since the devastating explosion, public anger shows no signs of abating.

The protesters blame the ruling elite for chronic mismanagement and corruption that is believed to be behind the explosion and the country's broader issues.

"You literally blew us up. We have nothing left to lose," a group of protesters screamed at a demonstration on Saturday.

The scenes of public fury came as world leaders pledged millions in emergency aid to the country's explosion-ravaged capital in a teleconference co-organized by France and the United Nations.

President Donald Trump was among the participants, as well as leaders from Gulf Arab states, China and the European Union.

“The international community, Lebanon’s closest friends and partners, will not let Lebanese people down,” the chair of the conference said in a concluding statement on Sunday, according to the French mission to the U.N.

The participants agreed to help meet the immediate needs of Beirut and the Lebanese people through emergency assistance programs and agreed it would be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population.”

They warned that any support of the economic and financial recovery of the country would be contingent on Lebanese authorities committing to economic and political reforms demanded by the Lebanese people, according to the statement.

Trump said Monday that the U.S. had already sent three planes loaded with medical supplies, food and water to Lebanon and would be sending additional planes.

The government’s resignation, however, is not a panacea for Lebanon’s problems.

The country is facing its worst economic crisis in its modern history and is afflicted by skyrocketing unemployment, rising prices and a plummeting Lebanese pound.

Hunger is spreading throughout the country of 6.8 million people.

Protesters have been fighting for change since October last year when the government lit a match by announcing new tax measures, enraging Lebanese citizens whose frustration with the government had in many cases been mounting for years.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets then, demonstrating against what they see as endemic corruption among the Lebanese political class who protesters say reap the benefits of their office while ordinary citizens struggle to make ends meet.

On Oct. 29, less than two weeks after the protests broke out, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned saying he had hit a “dead end.”

The new government formed in January is dominated by the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its allies.

The government’s resignation could signify a blow for the militant group that is officially designated a terrorist organization by the United States.