Lebanon’s government stepped down on Monday night, less than a week after a massive explosion in Beirut killed more than 170 people and wounded more than 6000, sparking days of violent protests.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab addressed the nation, announcing his resignation and that of his government in the wake of the blast, which he called a “disaster beyond measure.”
An apparatus of corruption bigger than the state
In an impassioned speech, Diab berated Lebanon’s ruling political elite for fostering what he called “an apparatus of corruption bigger than the state.”
“We have fought valiantly and with dignity,” he said, referring to members of his cabinet. “Between us and change is big powerful barrier.”
Diab compared Tuesday’s explosion to an “earthquake that rocked the country” prompting his government to resign. “We have decided to stand with the people,” he said.
Three cabinet ministers had already quit, along with seven members of parliament.
Diab’s ministers had repeatedly accused the ruling class of disrupting their plans for reform.
Politicians aligned with the country’s banking elite torpedoed the government’s IMF-endorsed economic program, which had been expected to dig into bank profits.
Jumblat urges ‘Emergency Govt.’
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat on Tuesday called for forming an “emergency government” and noted that he does not have a favorite candidate for the PM post now.
“Things require the formation of a government, call it what you want, that would first address the economic situation and Beirut’s reconstruction, and before anything else, reform,” Jumblat said after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh.
Asked about outgoing PM Hassan Diab, Jumblat answered: “He burned Beirut and he’s the one who toppled himself.”
Noting that he does not have conditions for the formation of the next government, the PSP leader said.
“I spoke extensively with Speaker Berri and, as usual, I will coordinate with him in every step. Today full coordination is needed but the current time is not for nominations,” Jumblat added.
“I spoke yesterday with French President Emmanuel Macron and I had the same answer: an emergency government is necessary to pull the country out of crises,” the PSP leader said.
Violent protests erupted outside the prime minister’s office in the run-up to the scheduled speech on Monday evening.
Dozens of protesters hurled stones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at security forces who responded with several rounds of tear gas. Some demonstrators tried to scale the blast walls outside Parliament Square.
Lebanon was already suffering through its worst economic crisis in decades, coupled with rising coronavirus rates, and the government has been plagued by accusations of corruption and gross mismanagement.
Tuesday’s blast, which damaged or destroyed much of the Lebanese capital and was linked to a long-neglected stash of potentially explosive chemicals, was the last straw for many Beirut residents.
Diab, a self-styled reformer, was ushered into power last December, two months after a popular uprising brought down the previous government. His government is composed of technocrats and had been supported by major political parties, including the Iran-backed political and militant group Hezbollah.
Now the country will be tasked with finding its third prime minister in less than a year, to contend with the spiraling crises Lebanon faces on a number of fronts.
Lebanon’s currency has lost around 70% of its value since anti-government protests began last October. Poverty has soared, with the World Bank projecting that more than half of the country’s population would become poor in 2020.
The government had been seen as powerless in the face of a growing banking crisis. The state has not passed a capital controls law, exacerbating the country’s severe liquidity crunch.
The majority of people in the country have been subject to stringent and arbitrary cash withdrawal limits for nearly a year. Meanwhile, billions of U.S. dollars are widely believed to have been withdrawn from Lebanon by the country’s economic elite, further depleting foreign currency reserves.
Lebanon’s financial woes were exacerbated earlier this year by government-imposed lockdowns, designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic but which also brought the country’s ailing economy to a screeching halt.
The protests over the weekend were some of the largest and most violent the city has seen in nearly a year. The city convulsed with anger as protesters occupied several government ministries and threw stones and shards of glass at security forces. Police fired hundreds of rounds of tear gas as well rubber bullets and, in some cases, live fire.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a “credible and transparent” investigation into the explosion.
French President Emmanuel Macron hosted an international donors’ conference on Sunday. U.S. President Donald Trump and 15 other heads of state were present, pledging approximately $300 million in aid to Lebanon.
Guterres called on the donors to “give speedily and generously” to help the recovery efforts.
Parliament convenes to discuss Emergency Decree
Speaker Nabih Berri on Tuesday called for a parliament session to discuss a state of emergency decree in Beirut after the mega blast that rocked the capital on August 4.
The meeting will be held at the UNESCO Palace on Thursday.
The parliament convenes one day after the resignation of PM Hassan Diab’s government, widely accused of “incompetence and negligence.”
Lebanon protesters stormed ministries
Earlier reports said:
Lebanon’s protesters stormed several government ministries as violent protests gripped Beirut on Saturday night.
The foreign ministry, the environment ministry and the economy ministry were occupied by angry demonstrators who called for the downfall of Lebanon’s ruling elite five days after a blast ripped through the Lebanese capital causing widespread destruction.
Banking Association taken over
The Banking Association, which protesters blame for the country’s worsening banking crisis, was also taken over by protesters and set ablaze.
Hours after the protests first rocked Beirut, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed to hold early elections as his beleaguered government faces calls to resign.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters hurled stones and fireworks at security forces. Parts of the central district were set ablaze and when the protesters took over the Foreign Ministry, the first in a succession of popular takeovers, they declared it the “headquarters of the revolution.”
Protesters tried to pull down a wall to get inside Parliament.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on Saturday afternoon calling for “revenge” against the ruling class of politicians widely held responsible for the explosion that lay waste to large swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The air was thick with tear gas as people filled the main protest site, with the demonstrations stretching to surrounding neighborhoods and the city’s main motorway, in the biggest protests since a nationwide uprising last October.
One member of the Lebanese security forces has died. More than 200 people have been injured in the protests, including 63 who were transferred to hospitals, according to the Lebanese Red Cross. Several journalists are among the injured.
The security forces’ response did not appear to disperse many of the angry protesters. One woman who fell over as she stumbled over people running in her direction, said: “They bombed our city. I will go back in.” Her face soaked with tears, she picked up her belongings, as well as some stones, and headed back into the crowd.
“You survive an explosion in Beirut only to be tear gassed,” said one man in his 20s as he held an onion to his mouth to mitigate the effects of the gas.
Parts of the demonstrations remained peaceful, while other parts were predominantly filled with angry protesters who faced off with security forces.
“We are in trouble here because on one hand, protesters are burning buildings and if I send the fire trucks to put the fire out, I am afraid protesters might attack and hurt the police and fire fighters,” said Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud. “On the other, however, I cannot just not send the police or the fighter fighters.”
Abboud was heckled and chased out of a damaged neighborhood by protesters earlier in the day.
The demonstrators erected mock gallows in what were dubbed “Judgment Day” protests, as grief gave way to anger after more than 154 people were killed and dozens more remain missing. Over 5,000 people have been injured.
Effigies of prominent political leaders, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, were hanged from nooses, in some of the most explicit signs of public outrage the country has seen in years.
Protesters held signs reading, “Here is where the nooses should be hung.” The mock gallows have become a key symbol of the demonstrations, which are demanding that those responsible for the Tuesday’s blast are held accountable, as well as against corruption and mismanagement of the country.
The gallows were erected in the same place where several people were hanged more than 100 years ago by the then ruling Ottoman Empire for revolting against Istanbul. The Martyr’s Square statue commemorates those executions.
Protesters scaled the walls that have sealed off Beirut’s Nejmeh Square, where Lebanon’s parliament stands, for months, and attempted to tear the barricades down.
In one video, soldiers were seen taking cover in archeological ruins as protesters threw rocks at them.
Protesters defy riot police in front of Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut.
“We were born and raised with this regime in place — we believe it’s time for it to go especially after the last explosion,” said 18-year-old protester Dana Itani. “These politicians deserve to be hanged here, they deserve even worse honestly.”
Protesters threw stones at riot police near Nejmeh Square.
“I lived the civil war. I was displaced, lived harsh days and we already lost houses in the war. We thought that was it,” said Hayat Gharazeddine, 51. “These days however are worse than war. You have no idea how you might die now, which is the most scariest thing.”
“I wish I could hang them myself,” she added.
Demonstrators came to the ‘judgment day’ protests bearing nooses as grief gave way to anger.
Some protesters occupied a Foreign Affairs Ministry building in eastern Beirut, unfurling a large banner over its severely damaged structure that called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese armed group and political party, according to Lebanese TV channel LBCi.
One of the demonstrators declared the building the “headquarters of the revolution,” through a megaphone.
Lebanon was already embroiled in an economic meltdown prior to Tuesday’s blast, which obliterated its main port, destroying grain silos. The international community has already sent emergency medical and food supplies to the country and are pledging tens of millions of dollars in funds.
Tuesday’s disaster may have also brought the country’s political crisis to a tipping point. Since a popular uprising in October toppled the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, public disgruntlement against the ruling political class has been rampant, accelerating a financial crisis that is one of the worst the country has ever seen.
U.S. support protesters
The U.S. embassy in Beirut voiced support for peaceful protesters. “The Lebanese people have suffered too much and deserve to have leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability,” the embassy tweeted on Saturday night. “We support them in their right to peaceful protest, and encourage all involved to refrain from violence.”
10 Months of Crisis
October 17: Protests break out, sparked by a government announcement of a planned tax on messaging applications, including WhatsApp.
With the economy already in crisis, many see the tax as the last straw and thousands flood the streets in Beirut and other cities, some chanting “the people demand the fall of the regime”.
The government of Saad Hariri scraps the tax, but the unrest turns into a nationwide revolt involving hundreds of thousands of people, cutting across sectarian lines, against the perceived ineptitude and corruption of the ruling class.
October 29: Hariri’s government resigns, prompting celebrations in the streets.
December 11: At a Paris conference, France, the United States and other countries rebuff an urgent aid appeal from Lebanon, making assistance conditional on the formation of a new reform-minded government.
The economic crisis worsens with mass layoffs, drastic banking restrictions and a strong depreciation of the Lebanese pound.
December 19: President Michel Aoun names little-known academic Hassan Diab, who is backed by Hizbullah, as premier.
Protesters regroup to condemn the appointment and turn violent in January with clashes between demonstrators and security forces leaving hundreds wounded.
January 21: The Diab government is unveiled, made up of a single political camp, the pro-Iranian Hizbullah and its allies, who have a parliamentary majority.
Demonstrators respond by torching tires and blocking several roads in mainly Sunni towns across the country.
February 11: Parliament votes its confidence in the new line-up. Hundreds of protesters try to block the session. Clashes leave more than 370 injured.
March 7: Lebanon, whose debt burden is equivalent to nearly 170 percent of its gross domestic product, says it will default on a $1.2-billion Eurobond.
Later that month it says it will discontinue payments on all dollar-denominated Eurobonds.
April 30: After three nights of violent clashes in second city Tripoli, Diab says Lebanon will seek help from the International Monetary Fund.
Talks started on May 13.
On June 11, new protests erupt after the Lebanese pound hits a new low on the black market.
The currency plunge goes alongside the closure of shops and massive layoffs due to measures to contain the novel coronavirus.
June 29: The director general of the finance ministry involved in the negotiations with the IMF resigns, citing deep disagreements over the management of the crisis.
In July, the IMF warns of the high cost of holding up reforms.
August 3: The government begins to unravel with foreign minister Nassif Hitti resigning.
August 4: A massive explosion at Beirut’s port devastates entire city neighborhoods, killing at least 160 people, injuring 6,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The government says the blast appears to have been caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate left unsecured in a warehouse for six years.
The blast reignites calls to oust the political elite, accused of gross negligence that led to the explosion. New protests are held under the slogan “Hang them by the gallows.”
Thousands of furious protesters fill central Beirut on Saturday, clashing with security forces deployed in force who lobbed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at demonstrators.
A group of protesters led by retired army officers briefly take over the foreign ministry, declaring it the “headquarters of the revolution.”
Protests and clashes between demonstrators and security forces continue in the following days.
A string of ministers and MPs resign.
August 10: Diab announces the government’s resignation after just over seven months in power.