People in Lebanon are doubly frustrated over a political elite that has failed to investigate the Beirut port disaster and stop a devastating economic crisis.
Banks, businesses and government offices are shuttered as Lebanon marks one year since the horrific explosion at the port of Beirut with a national day of mourning.
The grim anniversary comes on Wednesday amid an unprecedented economic and financial meltdown, and a political stalemate that has kept the country without a functioning government for a full year.
United in grief and anger, families of the victims and other Lebanese were planning to join protests.
The explosion killed at least 214 people, according to official records, and injured thousands.
It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history — the result of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire broke out.
Reflecting the raw anger at the country's ruling class, posters assailing authorities were hung on the facade of defaced buildings across from the port.
“Here starts your end and our beginning,” read one poster that took up the space of five floors of a high-rise. “Hostages of a murderous state,” read another.
The explosion — which destroyed and damaged thousands of homes and businesses — and the lack of accountability, have added to tensions.
Lebanon is reeling from multiple crises, including an economic unraveling so severe it has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the last 150 years.
The crisis has led to a dramatic currency crash and hyperinflation, plunging more than half the country’s population below the poverty line.
“Lebanon has become a living nightmare of surreal proportions. The country now has one of the lowest minimum wages in the world, standing at 675,000 Lebanese pounds, which is barely $30," said Rabih Torbay, CEO of Project HOPE, an international healthcare NGO, in a statement.
"This is two times less than the monthly minimum wage in the Central African Republic ($63) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ($55),”
It soon emerged in documents after the blast that the highly combustible nitrates had been haphazardly stored at a port warehouse alongside other flammable material since 2014, and that multiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.
A year later, there has been no accountability, and the investigation has yet to answer questions such as who ordered the shipment of the chemicals and why officials ignored repeated internal warnings of their danger.
In an extensive investigative report about the blast, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for an international probe into the port blast, accusing Lebanese authorities of trying to thwart the investigation.
HRW said a lack of judicial independence, constitution-imposed immunity for high-level officials and a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation rendered it “incapable of credibly delivering justice.”
Macron to the rescue?
French President Emmanuel Macron aims to raise at least $350 million in emergency aid for Lebanon on Wednesday at a donor conference held to mark the blast anniversary.
France says Wednesday's video conference, which is being co-hosted by Macron and United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, needs to raise $357 million to meet the most urgent needs of the Lebanese people in terms of food, health, clean water and education.
"One year after the tragedy, Lebanon can continue to count on France's solidarity," Macron tweeted ahead of the virtual meeting.
US President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and Lebanon's own President Michel Aoun will be among the participants from around 40 countries and multilateral organisations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the International Monetary Fund.
This is the third such conference that France has organised in as many years.
Each time, donors have pledged millions in emergency relief but conditioned a broader rescue plan on Lebanese politicians forming a government that commits to tackling rampant corruption, among reforms.
Najib Mikati, the billionaire businessman recently appointed prime minister, had hoped to form a cabinet by the anniversary of the blast but squabbling over cabinet posts continues.