The port blast is taking popular anger to a new level in a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and near bankruptcy.

Lebanese protesters, enraged by a deadly explosion blamed on officials' negligence, clash with security forces for the second evening near an access street to the parliament in central Beirut on August 9, 2020.
Lebanese protesters, enraged by a deadly explosion blamed on officials' negligence, clash with security forces for the second evening near an access street to the parliament in central Beirut on August 9, 2020. (AFP)

Lebanon's political elite has faced pressure from all sides after a deadly explosion blamed on official negligence, with the cabinet resignations over the affair and angry protesters clashing with security forces.

As hopes faded of finding any survivors of Tuesday's blast, social media was flooded with furious posts after a night that saw protesters briefly take over ministries in central Beirut.

A picture went viral on social media showing the city's devastated port, with a low wall in the foreground bearing the spray-painted message: "My government did this."

While it is not known what started the fire that set off a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, protesters say the disaster could not have happened without the corruption and incompetence that have come to define Lebanon's ruling class.

Ministers resign

Lebanon's environment minister has resigned from Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government, saying the government had lost a number of opportunities to reform, a statement said.

Damianos Kattar's departure follows the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad in the wake of the explosion.

Her resignation was the first for a senior government official since a deadly port blast killed nearly 160 people and destroyed swathes of Beirut.

"After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government," she said in a statement carried by local media, apologising to the Lebanese public for failing them.

Lebanon Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad resigned on Sunday, August 9, 2020, citing government's failure to carry out reforms and the catastrophic explosion that rocked Beirut.
Lebanon Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad resigned on Sunday, August 9, 2020, citing government's failure to carry out reforms and the catastrophic explosion that rocked Beirut. (Dalati and Nohra via AFP)

Donors pledge more than $298 million - France

An emergency donor conference has raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said. 

However, the world leaders said the money to rebuild Beirut will come only with the same change demanded by mourning protesters in the capital.

Earlier, the European Commission pledged an additional 30 million euros ($35 million) at the conference for Lebanon.

This comes on top of 33 million euros ($39 million) in emergency aid previously announced, the EU’s executive body said in a statement.

The new EU funding will be channelled to UN agencies, NGOs and international organizations and be strictly monitored, the statement said.

European Council president Charles Michel called during the conference for an “independent and credible” inquiry into the cause of the explosion and said that the European Union and its member states stand ready to assist.

'Lebanon's future is at stake'

French President Emmanuel Macron called on the world powers to put aside their differences and support the Lebanese people, whose country's future is at stake after a massive blast devastated the capital.

In opening remarks to the online donor conference, Macron said the international response should be coordinated by the United Nations in Lebanon.

"Despite differences in view, everyone must come to the help of Lebanon and its people," Macron said via video-link from his summer retreat on the French Riviera.

"Our task today is to act swiftly and efficiently."

"Our role is to be by their sides," he said. "Lebanon's future is at stake."

Unprecedented fury

Public fury over this week’s massive explosion in Beirut is taking a new turn as protesters storm government institutions and clash for hours with security forces, who respond with heavy volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

A police officer was killed and dozens of people hurt during clashes on Saturday night which played out in streets that were wrecked from Tuesday’s blast at the port that devastated much of the city.

Dozens are still missing and nearly 6,000 people injured.

The huge ammonium nitrate explosion left a crater 43 metres deep, a security official said Sunday. 

READ MORE: Number of missing after Beirut explosion drops as death toll rises

Four govt buildings

Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses at Beirut's Martyrs' Square to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for the explosion.

With security forces focused on a large gathering at the Martyrs' Square protest hub, a group led by retired army officers snuck into the foreign ministry and declared the building a "headquarters of the revolution".

The stunt, which marked a new development in the strategy of a protest camp whose October 17 uprising had lost steam lately, was facilitated by the damage the port blast shockwave had inflicted on the building.

At one point, protesters had stormed or taken over four key official buildings.

"We are officially at war with our government," said activist Hayat Nazer, as tear gas filled the air in downtown Beirut. 

"This is war."

READ MORE: Lebanese protesters storm several ministries as anger grows

Rage grows after disastrous blast

The blast was fueled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the port for more than six years. Apparently set off by a fire, the explosion was by far the biggest in Lebanon’s troubled history and caused an estimated $10 billion to 15 billion in damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also damaged 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

READ MORE: Fury in Lebanon as officials admit knowing stockpile could blow up Beirut

“Resignation or hang,” read a banner held by protesters, who also planned to hold a symbolic funeral for the dead. Some nooses were also set up along the bridges outside the port.

Khodr Ghadir, 23, said the noose was for everyone who has been in power for the last 30 years. “What happened was a spark for people to return to the streets."

A placard listed the names of the dead, printed over a photo of the blast's enormous pink mushroom cloud. “We are here for you,” it read.

Dozens of protesters stormed the buildings of government ministries and the headquarters of the banking association, turning their rage to state and financial institutions.

READ MORE: Police clash with protestors enraged by explosion in Lebanon

Earlier Saturday, the protesters entered the empty buildings of the foreign ministry, declaring it a headquarters of their movement. Others then fanned out to enter the economy and energy ministries, some walking away with documents claiming they will reveal the extent of corruption that permeates the government. Some also entered the environment ministry.

Many protesters said they now had only their homes and even those are no longer safe. They blamed the government’s inefficiency and political division for the country ills, including the recent disaster that hit almost every home.

By 1930 GMT protesters had been dispersed and security forces deployed across the city, where the broken glass and rubble from Tuesday's disaster mixed with the smoking remains of a night of rage.

Dozens of people wounded during the violence also needed treatment in hospitals already bursting with the injured from Tuesday's blast and coronavirus patients.

READ MORE: Lebanon wakes up to utter devastation after Beirut blast

'Heads will roll'

On Sunday French President Emmanuel Macron will host Donald Trump in a UN-backed virtual conference to drum up aid for crisis-stricken Lebanon.

Macron, the first world leader to visit Beirut after the explosion, has warned Lebanese leaders that the billions of dollars in available aid would not be forthcoming if the Lebanese state did not implement deep changes.

France also said it would charter a cargo ship to transport food, medicine and reconstruction materials to the country. 

READ MORE: Emergency aid from around the world lands in Lebanon

Under increased pressure from the street, which wants heads to roll over the Beirut port tragedy, and foreign partners exasperated by the leadership's inability to enact reforms, Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government was fraying at the edges.

A bloc of three MPs from an opposition Christian party resigned from parliament Saturday, bringing to five the number of lawmakers to quit since the August 4 explosion.

Crippled by debt and the local currency's nosedive, and threatened by a spike in Covid-19 cases, Lebanon can ill afford international isolation, but its hereditary ruling class is digging its heels in.

Many Lebanese have urged foreign powers not to funnel more money into what they say are thieving and incompetent hands.

"We call on all the anguished Lebanese people to take to the streets to demand the prosecution of all the corrupt," said Sami Rammah, the retired general who spearheaded the short-lived occupation of the foreign ministry Saturday.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit met top officials ahead of expected visits by Turkish officials and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.

Turkey’s vice president and the country's foreign minister met Aoun and said that Ankara was ready to help rebuild Beirut's port and evacuate some of the wounded to Turkey for treatment.

At the site of the blast, workers continued searching for dozens of missing people.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies