SUN 17 - 1 - 2021
Date: Aug 11, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Diab’s resignation clears way for national unity government
Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned Monday under mounting public pressure in the wake of a devastating explosion that rocked Beirut last week, in a move effectively clearing the way for a national unity government backed by France, the US, and Arab countries, an official source said.

“The resignation of Diab’s Cabinet is bound to smooth the path for a political settlement to resolve Lebanon’s multiple political, economic and financial crises, and cope with the aftermath of the Beirut blast,” the official source told The Daily Star.

“Sponsored by France and backed by the United States and Arab countries, this settlement calls basically for the formation of a national unity government embracing all the main parties in the country,” the source said.

In a televised speech to the Lebanese announcing his government’s resignation, Diab lashed out at what he called the “system of corruption” that is controlling the country.

“We want to open the door to national salvation, a salvation that the Lebanese will participate in achieving. Therefore, today I announce the resignation of this government,” Diab said. “May God protect Lebanon ... ”

Without identifying corrupt politicians largely blamed for the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades, Diab said: “I previously said that the system of corruption is deeply rooted in all the functions of the state; nevertheless I discovered that the system of corruption is bigger than the state, and that the latter is constrained by this system and cannot confront it or get rid of it.”

“We are still under the shock of the tragedy that struck Lebanon. This disaster which has hit the Lebanese at the core occurred as a result of chronic corruption in politics, administration and the state,” he added.

Diab said one of the many examples of corruption exploded in Beirut Port, and the calamity befell Lebanon. “But corruption cases are widespread in the country's political and administrative landscape; other calamities hiding in many minds and warehouses, and which pose a great threat, are protected by the class that controls the fate of the country, threatens the lives of people, falsifies facts, survives on seditions and trades in people’s blood during periods of relinquishment which have become a pattern that repeat itself according to interests, impulses, calculations and fluctuating dependencies,” he said.

Calling the Beirut blast an “earthquake” that struck the country, with all its humanitarian, social, economic and national repercussions, Diab said: “Today we are appealing to the people, to their demand to hold accountable those responsible for this disaster that has been concealed for seven years, to their desire for real change, for a shift from the state of corruption, waste, brokerage and thefts, to a state based on the rule of law, justice, and transparency, a state that respects its citizens.”

Diab later formally submitted his letter of resignation to President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace. Aoun asked Diab’s Cabinet to continue to serve in a caretaker capacity until a new government was formed. Aoun is to set a date for binding parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister to form a new government.

Diab’s was the third government formed since Aoun’s election in October 2016, and the other two governments were formed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Diab Monday chaired the last session of his Cabinet at the Grand Serail which decided to refer investigations of the Beirut explosion to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest judicial court that deals with sensitive cases related to national security. The transfer was done at Aoun’s request.

The resignation of Diab’s 20-member Cabinet, formed earlier this year, capped the resignation of the finance, justice, environment and information ministers in the past two days amid growing public rage over the catastrophic explosion that ripped through Beirut Port last Tuesday, transforming the capital into a disaster-stricken city, killing at least 164 people, injuring over 6,000 and leaving about 300,000 people homeless.

The Lebanese people hold authorities responsible for the explosion that damaged half of the nation’s capital. They accuse leaders of gross negligence and recklessness, as the blast was a result of the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at the port since 2014, endangering civilian life.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters clashed with security forces Monday for the third day in a row in central Beirut, demanding justice for the victims of the Beirut blast, accountability for those responsible for negligence, and the formation of a neutral government.

Diab’s Cabinet was formed on Jan. 21 after Hariri submitted his government’s resignation last year under the brunt of a nationwide popular uprising on Oct. 17 against the worsening economic conditions and the country’s entrenched political elite blamed by protesters for corruption, mismanagement and the squandering of public funds.

According to the official source, Hariri, who enjoys the support of France, America and Arab Gulf states, was the favorite candidate to form a national coalition government embracing the country’s leading political parties.

But Hariri had set conditions to return to the premiership. He implicitly rejected the participation of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil in any government he might form. Following policy differences with Aoun and the FPM on key issues, Hariri last year declared dead a 2016 settlement that led to Aoun’s election and brought the head of the Future Movement back to the premiership.

Had Diab not announced the resignation of his government, he would have faced being brought down in Parliament with MPs withdrawing confidence from his government, a political source told The Daily Star Sunday.

Speaker Nabih Berri has called for open parliamentary sessions starting Thursday to grill the government over the “ongoing crime that had befallen the capital and the people and its negligence.” But now with the government’s resignation, Berri was expected to cancel the sessions.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is emerging as the main power broker in Lebanon, Monday telephoned Aoun, discussing the results of an international donor conference in support of stricken Beirut and the Lebanese people held virtually in Paris Sunday, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The two presidents agreed to “continue contacts to follow up on the implementation of what was agreed on at the Paris conference and coordinate the positions of the participating states,” NNA said.

World leaders and international organizations pledged at the Paris conference nearly $300 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Beirut in the wake of the explosion, but warned that no money for rebuilding the capital would be made available until Lebanese authorities commit themselves to the political and economic reforms demanded by the people.

The money raised during Sunday's conference is to be earmarked for rebuilding Beirut, supplying food aid, rebuilding schools and hospitals, and delivering medical equipment.

Macron, during a visit to Beirut last week, called for change and “a new political contract” in Lebanon. Yet, it was not clear whether Macron's call was for a new constitution to replace the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War and stipulated equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians.

He also called for the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon.

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