LEBANON'S entire government may collapse as officials fall on their swords over the colossal explosion that killed 160 people.
Rage is mounting as rioting has swept the streets of Beirut following the blast last week that injured 6,000 and left at least 300,000 people homeless.
Lebanese government ministers are beginning to resign amid allegations corruption and negligence of led to the explosion.
The horrific blast was one fifth the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
It emerged in the days after the disaster that numerous officials – including Lebanese president Michael Aoun – knew about the devastating stash of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in Beirut.
Warnings had been issued years prior to the explosion after the killer cargo was seized from a ship owned by a Russian businessman who had gone bankrupt.
Several ministers have now stepped down with many more reportedly wanting to resign as the government had pledged find those responsible.
The cabinet, formed in January with the backing of the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and its allies, had been due to meet on Monday.
Justice minister Marie-Claude Najms, information minister Manal Abdel-Samad,finance minister Ghazi Wazni, defence minister and deputy PM Zeina Akar, and environment minister Damianos Kattar have all reportedly resigned in quick succession.
Kattar blasted the system as "flaccid and sterile", while Abdel-Samad said the government had let the people down.
Meanwhile, Lebanese MPs Paula Yacoubian and Samy Gemayel resigned, with the latter confirming two other colleagues from his Kataeb party had also quit.
Yacoubian has called for the entire Lebanese government to resign – and said it was her "duty" to step down over the failures that led to the explosion
The wave of resignations come as prosecutor Ghassan El Khoury began to question the heads of government agencies believed to be responsible for the explosion.
Lebanese people have been calling for the entire regime to go following the blast which came after the months of anti-government protests.
Joe Haddad, an engineer, told Reuters: "The entire regime needs to change. It will make no difference if there is a new government. We need quick elections."
Food shortages and unrest are mounting in the city as the disaster compounded anger stemming from a severe economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.
Eli Abi Hanna, whose home was destroyed, said: "It was easier to make money during the civil war. The politicians and the economic disaster have ruined everything."
And meanwhile, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.
"It won't work, it's just the same people. It's a mafia," said Antoinette Baaklini, whose workplace was demolished in the explosion.
University student Marilyne Kassis added: "It will always be the same. It is just a political game, nothing will change."
The killer cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was confiscated in 2014 from the Moldovan-flagged ship Rhosus while en route from Batumi in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia to Mozambique
The ammonium nitrate was sold by Georgian fertiliser maker Rustavi Azot LLC, and was to be delivered to a Mozambique explosives maker, Fabrica de Explosivos.
It was however impounded by Lebanese authorities, and sat on the dockside in Warehouse 12 for six years until it blew up last Tuesday.
"Hang up the nooses" trended across Lebanese social media in an indication of the fury that followed the initial shock and grief.
Reportedly the blast was sparked when a reckless welder caused a fire at nearby Warehouse 9 – which then spread to the explosive Warehouse 12.
Sources close to the investigation blamed the incident on "inaction and negligence", saying "nothing was done" by committees and judges involved in removing the explosives.
The cabinet ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014 to be put under house arrest.
Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told Al Jazeera he had only found out about the presence of the explosive material stashed at the port 11 days before the explosion.
"No minister knows what's in the hangars or containers, and it's not my job to know," he said.
Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI that customs had sent six documents to the judiciary warning that the material posed a danger.
He said: "We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why."
Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago warned that if it was not moved it would "blow up all of Beirut".
Two documents revealed that Lebanese Customs had asked the judiciary in 2016 and 2017 to ask the "concerned maritime agency" to re-export or approve the sale of the ammonium nitrate.
One of the documents cited similar requests in 2014 and 2015 – suggesting repeated warnings about the danger were overlooked by the authorities.
What is ammonium nitrate?
AMMONIUM nitrate is a chemical compound which is predominantly used in agriculture as a fertiliser – but is also highly explosive.
It is a white crystalline solid and is highly soluble in water – with the chemical formula NH₄NO₃.
The chemical is applied in granule form into the soil and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen to be released.
Another use of ammonium nitrate is in the food industry where it is used as a nutrient in producing antibiotics and yeast.
In most countries, it is used to make explosives for mining, quarrying and civil construction because of its low cost and ready availability.
It has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the last three decades, including the explosion at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France, in 2001 that killed 31 people.
Ammonium nitrate was also used to create the explosives used in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings.
By itself, ammonium nitrate is not regarded as dangerous but under certain conditions, it can become deadly.
The chemical is classified as an “energetic material” meaning that it produces heat as it decomposes.
If there is a significant amount of ammonium nitrate it can generate enough heat to catch fire and continue to burn eventually causing an explosion.
Prime Minister Diab vowed those responsible will "pay the price" – but it looks as if the focus of the probe and public anger has turned on the regime.
International aid is being mobilised across the world to help support the victims and search for the dead among the rubble.
The US, UK, France, Gulf states and even rivals Israel have offered money and assistance – but Canada has refused to give Cash directly to the Lebanese government due to fears of corruption.
Royal Navy vessel HMS Enterprise has arrived to carry out survey work in the port to establish the extent of the damage.
British engineering experts have found the blast was "unquestionably" one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever to take place.
The team from the University of Sheffield has calculated the strength of the blast based on the videos and photographs of the catastrophe.
They believe the explosion was the equivalent of 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes of TNT.
Protests mount as bout 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs' Square and some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.
Source: Read Full Article