French President Emmanuel Macron has asked for a “new political pact” among the Lebanese groups in flagrant interference in the Arab country’s internal affairs just two days after a devastating blast gutted out the Beirut port.
“I will talk to all political forces to ask them for a new pact. I am here today to propose a new political pact to them,” said the French president in central Beirut on Thursday, addressing angry crowds of people.
“I will be back on September 1, and if they can’t do it, I’ll take my political responsibility” toward Lebanon, said Macron who also promised mobilizing aid. “I guarantee you this – aid will not go to corrupt hands,” he added.
On Tuesday afternoon, a catastrophic explosion rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, killing at least 137 people and wounding about 5,000 others.
Dozens of people are still missing, and at least 300,000 people have been displaced as a result of the colossal blast, which leveled the whole port and a large section of central Beirut and turned successive apartment blocks into masses of debris and twisted metal.
A large supply of confiscated explosive material that had been stored in a warehouse at the city’s port for the past six years is suspected to have caused the massive explosion, the biggest ever to hit the Middle East.
After arriving in Beirut in the wake of the devastating explosion, Macron went to the once vibrant Beirut port and visited its harborside blast zone, which is now a wasteland of blackened ruins, rubble and charred debris.
Earlier in the day, two French aircraft arrived in Lebanon with specialist rescue personnel and equipment.
Macron’s opportunistic and populist campaign brings back to memory the country’s colonial past in Lebanon and is viewed by many as a provocative act that threatens the Arab country’s sovereignty.
An alarming online petition, set up and signed by pro-France forces on Thursday, called on the French president to “place Lebanon under a French mandate for the next 10 years.”
Later on Thursday, the French president was expected to head to the presidential palace for meetings with “all political actors”, including Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Macron was also about to meet with members of different political factions and civil society representatives before giving a press conference.
On Wednesday, the Lebanese cabinet reportedly decided to put all port officials, who had overseen storage and security since 2014, under house arrest.
The move comes amid questions about the ammonium nitrate stored at the port that is believed to have caused the unprecedented explosion, whose mushroom-shaped cloud has drawn comparisons with the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago.
The army would oversee the detainees until responsibility is determined for the Tuesday explosion, in which the country’s main grain silo was destroyed, Reuters reported, citing unnamed ministerial sources.
With the destruction of the silo, the nation is now left with less-than-a-month’s supply of grain, but enough flour to avoid a crisis, the government says.
The cabinet also announced a two-week-long state of emergency in Beirut, and asked security forces to ensure no one tampered with the blast scene, where a 140-meter wide crater is filled with sea water.
The Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah has called for unity to overcome what it described as “national tragedy” following the deadly blast.