BEIRUT (Dispatches) – Pro-Western groups called on Sunday for a sustained "uprising” to topple Lebanese leaders after this week’s devastating explosion in Beirut, and the country’s top Christian Maronite cleric said the cabinet should resign.
Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai said the cabinet should resign as it cannot "change the way it governs”.
"The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough ... the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover,” he said in his Sunday sermon.
Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said she was resigning on Sunday, citing the explosion and the failure of the government to carry out the kind of reforms that are being pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Saturday evening he will request early parliamentary elections in a bid to defuse a worsening political and economic crisis.
"In reality, there is no way out of this structural crisis without early parliamentary elections, in order to produce a new political class and a new parliament,” Diab said in a televised speech.
Still, thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement, but some elements among the crowd forced their ways into government buildings and ransacked them.
About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament. Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.
One policeman was killed and the Red Cross said more than 170 people were injured.
Supporters of the pro-Western March 14 alliance which is led by Saudi-backed former prime minister Sa’ad al-Hariri are reportedly digging in for a long fight.
A group reportedly led by retired army officers stormed the foreign ministry Saturday and declared it the "headquarters of the revolution”.
"We are taking over the foreign ministry as a seat of the revolution,” Sami Rammah, a retired officer, announced by loudspeaker from the ministry’s front steps.
"We call on all the anguished Lebanese people to take to the streets to demand the prosecution of all the corrupt,” appealing to the international community to boycott the government.
Ironically, the Beirut port where the cataclysmic blast took place among 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was reportedly administrated by people close to the March 14 alliance.
The unrest in Beirut and an apparent push to topple the government smacks of a "forward escape” tactic embraced by the Western- and Saudi-backed political camp to make the best of the situation and implement the agenda which it has been following for quite a while with little success, observers say.
The current economic crisis in Lebanon is the result of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies, which have caused the Lebanese pound to lose more than 80 percent of its value.
With the U.S. government keeping a tight lid on the flow of the greenback to Lebanon, protesters have repeatedly attacked banks and torched them in Beirut and other cities after they ran out of cash in the face of customers who wanted to convert their deposits to dollars.
President Macron was hosting U.S. President Donald Trump and other political leaders on Sunday for a donors’ conference by video to raise emergency relief for Lebanon.
Political analysts have already cast serious doubt on real intentions of the conference. The French leader on Thursday tied any aid to Lebanon to a "new political order” as he paid an uninvited visit to Beirut - as if to a protectorate.
Macron said funding is available for Lebanon, but its leaders first have to implement the kind of reforms which are on the minds of Western leaders.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun dismissed Macron’s call for an international probe, stating that such attempts are meant to "dilute the truth.”
"There is no meaning for any verdict if it takes too long to be issued and the judiciary must be swift, because belated justice is not justice then,” Aoun told a press conference.
Aoun said he personally asked Macron to provide Lebanese officials with any aerial images that would determine whether there were aircraft or missiles in Lebanon’s airspace before the catastrophic port blast.
"If the French do not possess such images, we will request them from other nations,” Aoun added.
Macron has been accused of trying to reconquer Lebanon rather than help it in the wake of the devastating explosion.
The virtual international donor conference on Sunday was held by the very countries which have brought Lebanon to its current destitution.
Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television said Macron, in a meeting with President Aoun, threatened Lebanese leaders with sanctions if they do not submit to reforms and a "political change”.
"I will be back on September 1, and if they can’t do it, I’ll take my political responsibility,” said Macron.
The remarks sparked an immediate backlash, with many Twitter users denouncing what they deemed as interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon.
While the United States has said it did not rule out an attack, the occupying regime of Israel which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has been at pain to deny any role.
The explosion, however, came in the wake of the Zionist regime’s recent military provocations at the Lebanese border and its shelling of villages.
Some Lebanese have touched on comments by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortly before the blast.
After touring a military base in the occupied Zionist city of Ramle on Tuesday, Netanyahu warned, "We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves.”
Tuesday’s catastrophic explosion killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, destroying parts of the city and compounding months of political and economic meltdown.
The explosion hit a city reeling from economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. For many it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which has since been rebuilt.