BEIRUT (Dispatches) – Lebanon’s president said Wednesday there would be no political cover for anyone implicated in last year’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, speaking a day after protests erupted over the handling of the investigation.
The blast on Aug. 4 was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored for years at the port with the knowledge of top government officials.
It still is not clear what exactly caused the explosion, and an investigation by a state-appointed judge has been riddled by charges of political interference. The first investigator, who charged senior officials with negligence, was removed from the case.
President Michel Aoun said Wednesday the port investigation is ongoing and that “there will be no political cover for anyone who was negligent or guilty.”
The delays have frustrated the public, particularly amid reports that most of the Lebanese leadership, including the president, had knowledge of the explosive material stored at the port. They did little to store it safely or to alert civilians in the area of its presence.
Beirut’s port and parts of the city were devastated in the ensuing massive explosion that killed over 200 people and injured hundreds more.
Tuesday’s protests outside the house of the interior minister of the caretaker government lasted several hours. Families of the victims and explosion survivors held a mock funeral and burial outside his home. Protesters scuffled with security forces guarding the building, who fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Dozens of protesters and security forces were lightly injured.
In another development in the country, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday he had presented a cabinet proposal to President Michel Aoun and is awaiting his response on Thursday, in a move that could end almost nine months of political deadlock amid an economic collapse.
“Now is the moment of truth,” Hariri, who has been at loggerheads with Aoun over the naming of ministers since his designation in October, told reporters after the meeting.
“For me this government can start to rescue the country and stop the collapse,” Hariri said.
The cabinet proposal is for 24 specialists.
Hariri met with the president upon his return from a visit to Cairo, where he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other top officials.
Sources in Cairo said Egypt had promised economic and political support for a new government and that a delegation would travel to Beirut soon.