Lebanon's information minister quits citing ‘govt failure to reform’

Lebanon's Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad announced her resignation.
Lebanon's Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad announced her resignation.

BEIRUT/PARIS — As world leaders on Sunday hold an online summit organized by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and the United Nations to discuss raising aid for Lebanon following Tuesday’s deadly Beirut Port explosion, Lebanon was still reeling in the aftermath of the blast with protests and high-profile resignations.

The Lebanese government has blamed poorly stored ammonium nitrate for the blast, with Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi revealing that preliminary estimates indicate the involvement of at least three senior officials in the Beirut Port explosion disaster.

Massive protests Saturday night saw demonstrators storm government ministries and attack the offices of the Association of Lebanese Banks, as anger grows over the explosion that killed 158 people and wounded over 6,000 others, according to a Axios report.

Earlier Sunday, Lebanon's Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad announced her resignation, citing the failure of the government to carry out reforms and the catastrophic explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday.

Manal said on live television that she has resigned "in response to the popular will for change", and that she "bows in front of the spirit of those killed in the explosion".

"I apologize to the Lebanese because we were unable to meet their aspirations. Change remained elusive, and since reality did not match the ambitions, and after the horror of the Beirut disaster, I submit my resignation from the government," she said in a statement, according to Lebanon's National News Agency.

She is the highest-ranking Lebanese official to resign since the explosion at the Beirut port on Tuesday. Neemat Frem, elected Member of Parliament for Byblos and Keserwan, has also resigned.

Later, Lebanese Environment Minister Damianas Kattar resigned on Sunday in the wake of a powerful deadly blast in the port of Beirut, media reported. According to Al-Jadeed broadcaster, the country’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab was trying to persuade Kattar to continue performing his duties on this post.

They follow independent MP Paula Yacoubian, who resigned on Saturday, and three MPs from the Kataeb party, which they announced during a funeral service for a senior party colleague who was killed in the explosion.

Beirut residents are still clearing rubble from streets that appear war-torn, days after a blast that shocked the country and horrified the world. The explosion is likely to accelerate a painful cycle Lebanon was already living through — discontent, economic distress, and emigration.

Lebanon was already undergoing a massive financial crisis, deepening coronavirus outbreak, and political instability following months of protests. It was also recovering from devastating wildfires last year.

While countries such as France have offered to help, it's unlikely the international community can truly come to Lebanon's rescue — financially or otherwise — during a pandemic that is sapping most attention and resources.

Huge hole

The huge chemical explosion that hit Beirut's port has left a 43-meter deep crater, said a security official on Sunday.

The blast on Tuesday, which was felt across the county and as far as the island of Cyprus, was recorded by the sensors of the American Institute of Geophysics (USGS) as having the power of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.

"The explosion in the port left a crater 43 meters deep," the Lebanese security official told AFP, citing assessments by French experts working in the disaster area. The crater is much larger than the one left by the enormous blast in 2005 that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri, which measured 10 meters across and two meters deep, according to an international tribunal investigating his murder. — Agencies