By GUY DAVIES, ABC News
(LONDON) — The Lebanese government has resigned in the aftermath of the massive explosion in Beirut and mass anti-government protests, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on Monday.
“I declare today the resignation of this government,” Diab said in a press conference. “May God protect Lebanon.”
He said his cabinet had the interest of the Lebanese people at heart, but that they faced “huge corruption.”
Diab will head to the presidential palace to hand in his resignation. President Michel Aoun will remain in his post.
Protesters over the weekend widely criticized the government, calling for regime change and accusing the government of negligent handling of the over 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate left in a warehouse for six years at the capital’s port. The explosion has killed at least 160 people and injured thousands of others. Further protests continued on the streets as Diab addressed the nation.
The massive blast leveled much of Beirut’s port, one of the country’s key economic hubs, and caused widespread devastation across the city.
The exact cause of the explosion is still unknown, but is believed to have been caused by a fire at the warehouse storing the ammonium nitrate, which can be explosive when exposed to high levels of energy. At least 300,000 have been left homeless by the blast, 80,000 of whom are children, according to UNICEF.
The mass resignation follows a weekend of violent protests in the Lebanese capital. Riot police and the parliamentary police used tear gas against protesters, some of whom tried to break through a barrier to reach the parliament building on Saturday. Local media also accused the police of using live ammunition in some instances.
The international community has pledged millions of dollars to Beirut’s relief effort. However, years of alleged corruption and mismanagement has seen world leaders, including President Macron of France, indicate that the funds will go directly to the Lebanese people, rather than to the government.
Eric Verdeil, a researcher at the Political Institute in Paris and specialist of Lebanon, told ABC News that “corruption is embedded in the Lebanese political system,” in an interview last week. The country is in a position of severe financial difficulty, becoming the first Middle Eastern country to enter hyperinflation last month, making even basic goods unaffordable for many Lebanese.
Negotiations between Lebanon and the International Monetary Fund over a potential bailout have reached a stalemate in recent months, with political reform a pre-condition for any financial aid for the stricken country.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.