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Government’s resignation just a 1st step for frustrated Lebanese demanding change

Many angry Lebanese say the government’s resignation on Monday did not come near to addressing the tragedy of last week’s Beirut explosion and are demanding the removal of what they see as a corrupt ruling class to blame for the country’s woes.

A protest with the slogan “Bury the authorities first” was planned near the port where highly explosive material stored for years detonated on Aug. 4, killing at least 163 people, injuring 6,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, announcing his cabinet’s resignation, blamed endemic graft for the explosion, the biggest in Beirut’s history and which compounded a deep financial crisis that has collapsed the currency, paralyzed the banking system and forced up prices.

“I said before that corruption is rooted in every juncture of the state, but I have discovered that corruption is greater than the state,” he said, blaming the political elite for blocking reforms.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled amid a row between the government, banks and politicians over the scale of vast financial losses.

Lebanese volunteers distribute food in the Karantina neighbourhood near Beirut’s port on Tuesday. (Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images)

“It does not end with the government’s resignation,” said the protest flyer circulating on social media. “There is still [President Michel] Aoun, [Parliament Speaker Nabih] Berri and the entire system.”

For many Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional government.

The Beirut port mirrors the sectarian power system in which the same politicians have dominated the country since the 1975-90 civil war. Each faction has its quota of directors at the port, the nation’s main trade artery.

“It’s a good thing that the government resigned. But we need new blood or it won’t work,” silversmith Avedis Anserlian told Reuters in front of his demolished shop.

Aoun is required to consult with parliamentary blocs on who should be the next prime minister, and is obliged to designate the candidate with the most support.

Forming a government amid factional rifts has been daunting in the past. Now with growing public discontent and the crushing financial crisis, it could be difficult to find someone willing to be prime minister.

Meanwhile, residents of Beirut continued to pick up the pieces as search operations for those still missing went on.

Funerals continue to take place in Lebanon. Firefighters on Tuesday are shown carrying the coffin of their colleague Rami Kaaki, one of 10 firefighters killed during last week’s explosion in Beirut. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)

Ihsan Mokdad, a contractor, surveyed a gutted building in Gemmayze, a district a few hundreds metres from the port.

“As the prime minister said, the corruption is bigger than the state. They’re all a bunch of crooks. I didn’t see one MP visit this area. MPs should have come here in large numbers to raise morale,” he said.

Stockpile depleted after explosion

Meanwhile, the World Food Program (WFP) will send 50,000 tonnes of wheat flour to Lebanon, a United Nations report said on Tuesday. The port blast destroyed a silo with all the private stocks held there

The report from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the flour would be sent “to stabilize the national supply and ensure there is no food shortage in the country.”

A Reuters report on Friday said Lebanon’s government held no strategic stockpile of grain before the explosion and all privately held stocks at the country’s only grain silo were destroyed. Current flour reserves in Lebanon were estimated to cover market needs for six weeks.

“An initial shipment of 17,500 tonnes is due to arrive in Beirut within the coming 10 days to supply bakeries for one month,” the report said.

Lebanon consumes between 35,000 to 40,000 tonnes of wheat per month. With no large grain silos to store wheat, sending the shipments as flour is more efficient, said Hesham Hassanein, a regional grain consultant based in Cairo.

“Flour comes in bags and is ready to distribute to be baked to bread versus wheat that needs to be milled,” Hassanein said.

Damage at the port from the blast is under assessment and most traffic is being diverted to Tripoli, which has only about a third of Beirut’s capacity.

The UN report said the Beirut port was expected to remain inoperable for at least a month. “A temporary bulk receiving facility is needed for grain imports to ensure adequate national stocks,” it said.

The French millers association said it was also shipping 500 tonnes of wheat flour to Lebanon as a donation from its stocks.

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