Change Required in Lebanon After Beirut Blast, Claims German Foreign Minister

An emergency donor conference raised pledges of almost 253 million euros ($298 million) for the immediate humanitarian relief

The foreign minister of Germany's mentioned on Wednesday that Lebanon required a government that can battle corruption and enacts reforms as he visited the Beirut port, scene of the devastating blast that triggered the protests and led the government to resign.

The last week's explosion at a warehouse storing highly explosive material claimed the lives of at least 171 people, injured some 6,000, and damaged a lot of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.

"It is impossible that things go on as before," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. "The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights corruption."

"Many in Europe have a lot of interest in this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance." President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident, or external factors.

Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources. The presidency said in a statement on Wednesday that as soon as Aoun received the state security report on the ammonium nitrate on July 20, the president's military consultant instructed the secretary-general of the Supreme Defence Council to "do the necessary".

Protests have erupted, with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country's woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralysed banks and sent prices soaring.

Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese said the state had abandoned them. "Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business," said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.

International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.

An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief. Maas gave a cheque for more than 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.

'Everything Is Gone'

Beirut blast

The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses. Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.

The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding. Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.

"Everything is gone," he said. "I just want someone to rebuild my shop." Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.

Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to controls prompted by the economic crisis. "Where is the government," he said, looking around his shattered apartment.

(With agency inputs)