Lebanon's military gets sweeping powers after Beirut blast

Ruben Fields
August 14, 2020

The FBI will join Lebanese and other worldwide investigators in the probe of the massive explosion at Beirut's port that killed more than 170 people, injured thousands and caused widespread destruction, a visiting USA diplomat said Thursday.

Lebanon's parliament on Thursday approved a two-week state of emergency imposed by the government after last week's deadly port explosion that gives it legal authority to suppress resurgent protests.

There has been widespread anger against authorities who allowed a large shipment of ammonium nitrate fertiliser to rot for years in a warehouse at the port despite repeated warnings.

"We are taking to the streets to stop the criminals from meeting", said one post on social media networks, calling for rallies on Thursday.

The state of emergency will now be in force until August 21.

But turnout was too low on Thursday morning, ahead of official visits by French Defence Minister Florence Parly and David Hale, the top career diplomat at the US State Department.

The disaster has raised popular fury toward Lebanon's leaders to a new level as the country reels from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, along with the coronavirus pandemic.

"The FBI will soon join Lebanese and global investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese to help answer questions about the circumstances that led up to this explosion", Hale said on Thursday.

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Security forces were heavily deployed in Beirut on Thursday, stopping protesters from reaching a legislative session.

World leaders, worldwide organisations and a seething Lebanese public have pressed for an global probe, but President Michel Aoun has said that calls for such an investigation are a "waste of time".

He also noted that there are 10 million Brazilians of Lebanese origins who vowed to send more aid to Lebanon.

The American envoy, who is due to meet Lebanese officials as well as representatives of civil society on Friday, indicated that his country supported the formation of a government "which responds to the will of its people and is committed genuinely and acts for reform ".

Both of them made a point of showing that the aid their countries is offering is being delivered directly to non-government groups on the ground, largely bypassing Lebanon's toxic political institutions.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government stepped down on Monday after several ministers said they would quit over the explosion.

Officials did not appear to be making rapid progress toward naming a new cabinet, a process which could take months.

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