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Lebanon information minister resigns as world leaders hold aid conference

Lebanon’s Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad announced on Sunday her resignation, citing the failure of the government to carry out reforms and the catastrophic explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, meanwhile, has confirmed it has organized an international aid conference for Sunday to support Lebanon and that the virtual talks will be co-hosted by the United Nations.

The blast at the portside warehouse, containing ammonium nitrate, caused $10 billion to $15 billion US in damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also killed more than 150 people, left thousands more wounded and damaged 6,200 buildings.

Some Lebanese called on Sunday for a sustained uprising to topple their leaders amid public fury over the disaster, and the country’s top Christian Maronite cleric said the cabinet should resign.

Protesters have called on the government to quit over what they say was negligence that allowed 2,750 tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate to be stored at the city’s port since 2014.

WATCH | Lebanon protesters met with tear gas:

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas at protesters demonstrating against the country’s ruling class, which is blamed for mismanagement that led to Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut. 10:54

Anger boiled over into violence scenes in central Beirut on Saturday.

Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai said the cabinet should resign if it cannot “change the way it governs.”

A grain silo in the port of Beirut is seen damaged on Saturday. (AFP via Getty Images)

“The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough … the whole government should resign if it is unable to help the country recover,” he said in his Sunday sermon.

Dozens of people were injured in Saturday’s protests, the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets in protests against corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.

PHOTOS | Protesters clash with security forces amid unrest over deadly Beirut blast:

About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament. Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.

Demonstrators defied dozens of tear gas canisters fired at them and hurled stones and firecrackers at riot police, some of whom were carried away to ambulances. One policeman was killed.

The Red Cross said it had treated 117 people for injuries on the scene on Saturday while another 55 were taken to hospital.

WATCH | Why Lebanese might fear aid channelled through government:

Sending aid through the Lebanese government would legitimize leaders whom protesters want out, says international aid expert Ruby Dagher. 1:06

Soldiers in vehicles mounted with machine guns were stationed beside Martyrs’ Square on Sunday.

“People should sleep in the streets and demonstrate against the government until it falls,” said lawyer Maya Habli, as she surveyed the demolished port where the blast erupted.

Among the countries already offering assistance to Lebanon:

  • Britain has offered a 5 million pound ($8.7 million Cdn) aid package including search and rescue help and expert medical support. The Royal Navy’s HMS Enterprise will help asses damage.
  • Iran is sending nine tonnes of food, as well as medicine, medical equipment, medical personnel and a field hospital, according to Iranian media.
  • Iraq is sending a plane with emergency medical aid and fuel aid. Twenty-two tanker trucks carrying 800,000 litres of gasoil arrived on Saturday at the Lebanese border.
  • Norway has pledged 40 tonnes of medical equipment and 25 million Norwegian crowns ($3.73 million Cdn) in financial help.
  • Qatar dispatched the first of four planned flights on Wednesday with medical aid, and will deliver two field hospitals of 500 beds each, with respirators and other medical supplies.
  • The U.S. has pledged more than $17 million US in initial disaster aid for Lebanon, the U.S. Embassy said on Friday.
  • The Canadian government announced Wednesday that it was contributing up to $5 million Cdn in humanitarian aid to Lebanon, including $1.5 million that will be directed to the Lebanese Red Cross to provide emergency medical services, shelter and food.

WATCH | Worst damage revealed at Beirut port:

The damage at Beirut’s port, where the blast occurred, shows the full power of the explosion. 1:26

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