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Countries pledge €250m in aid for port blast to be delivered 'directly' to Lebanese people

Countries pledged financial aid and called for an independent inquiry at a virtual donor conference hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron today.

Updated Aug 9th 2020, 8:00 PM

angry-lebanese-demonstrate-beirut Angry Lebanese protesters take to the streets of Beirut for the fourth day in a row. Source: Balkis Press/ABACA

COUNTRIES HAVE PLEDGED more than €250 million to aid Lebanon after massive explosions devastated the capital Beirut last week, France said.

The total figure of “emergency aid pledged or that can be mobilised quickly” amounts to €252.7 million, including €30 million from France.

Donors have pledged to muster “major resources” to help Lebanon deal with the aftermath of the deadly blast, saying assistance will be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population”.

In a joint statement issued after a virtual donor conference hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and the UN, they also offered support for an “impartial, credible and independent inquiry” into the 4 August disaster.

The world must respond “quickly and effectively” to the disaster, Macron warned, urging international cooperation “to ensure that neither violence nor chaos prevails”.

The explosion that hit Beirut’s port devastated large parts of the Lebanese capital, claiming over 150 lives and wounding some 6,000 people.

The Lebanese army said today that hopes have dwindled of finding survivors following days of search-and-rescue operations.

US President Donald Trump, who attended the conference, called for Lebanon to conduct a “full and transparent investigation” into the huge explosion, and expressed his support for protests demanding reform in the country.

“The President called for calm in Lebanon and acknowledged the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform, and accountability,” the White House said in a statement.

The calls came as protesters continued to clash with police on the streets of the wrecked capital for the fourth day in a row, calling for political accountability for the blast.

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters hurling stones and shooting fireworks near an access street to the Lebanon parliament, AFP reported.

angry-lebanese-demonstrate-beirut Angry Lebanese build gallows as they demonstrate in anger against their political leaders. Source: Balkis Press/ABACA

Macron became the first world leader to visit Beirut on Thursday, after Tuesday’s explosion and warned Lebanese leaders that while international aid would be forthcoming deep change was needed to resolve the country’s problems.

The blast at the Beirut port, blamed on a vast store of ammonium nitrate that was allowed to rot for years in a warehouse, destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

It has amplified the anger of many Lebanese against a ruling class allegedly mired in corruption and cronyism.

aftermath-of-massive-explosion-in-beirut Rosaline, sister of nurse Jessica Bazjian, who was killed during the massive Beirut port explosion, mourns at her funeral in the area of Zalqa, north of Beirut. Source: DPA/PA Images

Speaking in Beirut after his visit on Thursday, Macron said that the conference aimed to mobilise funding from Europe, the US and regional states to provide medicine, care, food, and housing. 

“We will also put in place clear and transparent governance so that all of this aid – whether it is French aid or international – is directly channelled to the people, to NGOs, to the teams in the field who need it, without any possible opacity or diversion,” he said.

He said that the need for profound change meant “it is the time of responsibility for Lebanon today and its leaders” who required “a new pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks.”

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Saturday that he would call for early elections.

‘Not a blank cheque’ 

Trump, confirming his attendance at the conference, tweeted that “everyone wants to help!”

A French presidential source, who asked not to be named, said that the EU, Britain, China, Russia, Jordan and Egypt would all be represented, although it was not immediately clear at what level. 

Israel, with whom Lebanon has no diplomatic relations, is not expected to take part.

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Key Arab states in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE are expected to take part but Iran, which wields huge influence in Lebanon through the Shiite group Hezbollah, had not shown a desire to participate, said the official. 

lebanon-explosion This picture went viral on social media today, showing the city's devastated port. Source: Hussein Malla

Echoing Macron’s comments in Beirut, the official said that “it is necessary that this is not a blank cheque for the Lebanese government”, adding that “it is not a question of how much is raised but how efficient it is.”

Macron, who will host the conference from his summer residence, had also underlined he would be returning to Lebanon on 1 September to check its progress.  

In a new sign of the anger, a group of protesters led by retired Lebanese army officers stormed the foreign ministry during a mass anti-government demonstration on Saturday.

The demonstrations show the “exasperation, distress of the population and need for things to change,” said the French official.

© AFP 2020

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