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Lebanese leaders try to calm anger

August 7, 2020

As shock turns to fury among Beirut residents, Lebanese political figures have called for calm while promising reform and "swift justice."

Lebanese President Michel Aoun
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Dalati & Nohra

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun said Friday that Lebanon's political system should be "reconsidered," as public outcry continues over Tuesday's explosion that destroyed Beirut's port and leveled entire neighborhoods. 

On Friday, Lebanon's Health Ministry revised the death toll to 154, with at least 100 people still missing. More than 5,000 were injured.

Already suffering under an ongoing economic and political crisis, many Lebanese blame government negligence for the explosion, due to the fact that a massive amount of highly hazardous ammonium nitrate had been allowed to sit unchecked for years in a densely populated area of the capital.

Read more: Beirut explosion: What makes ammonium nitrate so dangerous?

Anti-government protests erupted in central Beirut late Thursday, with police firing tear gas at dozens of demonstrators.

"We are facing changes and reconsidering our system, which is built on consensus, after it was seen to be paralyzed and incapable of swiftly executing decisions," President Aoun told reporters Friday, while promising "swift justice."

During a visit to Beirut Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said Lebanon needs a "new political order" to resolve years of crisis. Macron has also advocated an international probe into the explosion.

President rejects international probe

However, Auon rejected calls for an international probe into the incident Friday, saying it would be an attempt to "dilute the truth."

"There are two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or a bomb," he said, which is the first time a top Lebanese official has suggested foul play.

Lebanon's investigation has so far led to at least 21 arrests, including Beirut port's general manager Hassan Koraytem, along with other customs officials and port engineers.

What ignited the stored explosive chemicals remains unclear. Some officials have said repair work had begun recently on the warehouse, others say they suspect fireworks were stored nearby.

Hezbollah denies storing weapons 

On Friday, the leader of the Lebanese Islamist political party and militant group Hezbollah denied accusations that it had weapons stored at Beirut port, adding that he supported the government's investigation.

During a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the explosion was an "exceptional event" requiring unity and calm, which also presented an opportunity for Lebanon to come out of its ongoing political and economic crisis.

Iran-allied Hezbollah backs the current government along with President Auon.

wmr/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)