Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his entire cabinet resigned Monday amid widespread anger and mass protests over a massive warehouse explosion in Beirut last week that killed more than 150 people, wounded thousands, and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
In an address to the nation Monday as street demonstrations raged, Diab blamed the catastrophic explosion on the “chronic corruption” of Lebanon’s political class and announced he is stepping aside at the behest of the public. The outgoing prime minister described the explosion as a “crime” and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.
“I said that corruption is rooted in every part of the state,” said Diab, who took office less than eight months ago following the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. “But I found out that corruption is greater than the state. A political class is using all their dirty tricks to prevent real change.”
The deadly blast is believed to have occurred after a fire ignited a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound that is commonly used in fertilizers and explosives.
As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:
The 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate sailed into the city nearly seven years ago. The ship’s captain at the time called it a “powder keg.”
The cargo, a chemical compound used for blasting mines and building car bombs, was seized when the ship carrying it was found unseaworthy and its owner failed to pay certain fees, according to the ship’s captain and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a global trade union. It ended up in a warehouse as Lebanese officials, lawyers, judges, and a Russian shipper bickered over what to do next.
Over the next three years, attempts to get rid of the cargo became mired in the country’s bureaucracy, according to correspondence between Lebanese officials. Port officials didn’t heed court orders to safely store the ammonium nitrate, but instead sought permission to unload the chemicals… Other officials simply stopped responding to proposals.
The explosion was quickly followed by massive demonstrations in the streets Beirut as protesters blamed the negligence of their political representatives for the devastating blast, which prompted calls for an independent international probe.
“Our first reaction after the explosion was that we wanted to clean, to help the people that have been affected,” said one protester. “We cleaned the first day, the second day, the third day. And then, that’s it. We wanted to make our voices heard. What happened is not something new; it has been like this for years. This is unacceptable. It has to end.”