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Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform

Lebanese anti-government protesters

BEIRUT  (AFP) – Lebanon’s leadership faced growing rage after a massive explosion laid waste to large parts of central Beirut, with security forces firing tear gas at demonstrations late Thursday as international leaders called for reform.

Shock has turned to anger in a traumatized nation where at least 149 people died and more than 5,000 were injured in Tuesday’s colossal explosion of a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years in a port warehouse.

To many Lebanese, it was tragic proof of the rot at the core of their governing system, which has failed to halt the deepest economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has plunged millions into poverty.

State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators enraged by the blast.

Some in the small protest were wounded, the National News Agency reported.

Earlier, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to lead international emergency relief efforts and organise an aid conference in the coming days, promising that “Lebanon is not alone”.

But he also warned that the country — already in desperate need of a multi-billion-dollar bailout and hit by political turmoil since October — would “continue to sink” unless it implements urgent reforms.

Speaking of Lebanon’s political leaders, Macron said “their responsibility is huge — that of a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks, that of deep change”.

The International Monetary Fund, whose talks with Lebanon started in May but have since stalled, warned that it was “essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms”.

The IMF urged Lebanon — which is seeking more than $20 billion in external funding and now faces billions more in disaster costs — “to put in place a meaningful program to turn around the economy” following Tuesday’s disaster.