BEIRUT – Residents of Beirut vented their fury at Lebanon’s leaders Thursday during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, blaming them for the deadly explosion that ravaged the capital. Shouting “Revolution!” they crowded around the visiting leader who promised to press the politicians for reform.
A military judge leading the investigation into Tuesday's blast said 16 employees of Beirut's port, where the explosion took place, had been detained. He said 18 had been questioned, including port and customs officials, according to the state news agency.
But while investigators focus on port officials, many Lebanese put the blame squarely on the political elite and the corruption and mismanagement that even before the disaster had pushed the country to the brink of economic collapse.
The Cabinet was previously warned by a security agency that a stockpile of explosive chemicals stored at the port was dangerous, Lebanon’s customs chief told the Associated Press — a report that could raise questions of high-level neglect.
That stockpile of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate set off the massive blast, apparently when touched off by a fire at the port. The chemical had been left sitting in a warehouse ever since it was confiscated from an impounded cargo ship in 2013.
The explosion, powerful enough to be felt in Cyprus across the Eastern Mediterranean, killed more than 130 people, wounded thousands and blasted buildings for miles around. Two days later, some 300,000 people — more than 12% of Beirut’s population — can’t return to their homes, officials estimate. Damaged hospitals are still struggling to deal with the wounded. Dozens are still missing. Officials have estimated losses at $10 billion to $15 billion.
Furthermore, the disaster struck at a time when people’s savings have melted away, and unemployment and poverty have mounted in the financial crisis. Few have capacity to rebuild homes and businesses, and the government is scraping for dollars.
After talks with Lebanese leaders, France’s Macron announced his country will organize a conference in the next few days with European, American, Middle Eastern and other donors to raise money for food, medicine, housing and other urgent aid.