16 held over Beirut blast, Macron calls for international probe
August 06 2020 11:58 PM
French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian inspect the damages at the
French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian inspect the damages at the port of Beirut


Sixteen staff members at Beirut's port, the site of a massive explosion, have been detained over the deadly blast that devastated large parts of the city, a military prosecutor said on Thursday.

Lebanese authorities had announced an investigation into Tuesday's explosion, which they said was triggered by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at Beirut's port.

Lebanon's foreign minister said on French radio on Thursday that an investigating committee had been given four days to determine responsibility for the blast, which killed more than 130 people and wounded at least 5,000.

Military prosecutor Fadi Akiki said in a statement that 18 staffers at Beirut's port had been called in for questioning, 16 of whom remain in custody pending further investigations.

They include port and customs officials as well as maintenance workers and their managers, Akiki said.

His statement came as an official confirmed that the central bank had ordered an asset freeze for seven port and customs officials, including Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanon's customs authority.

The official spoke on the condition of anonimity because he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

A banking source confirmed that all the country's commercial banks received the order, which also lifts banking secrecy from accounts owned or linked to those in question.

Even as they counted their dead and cleared streets of debris, many Lebanese were boiling with anger over a blast they see as the most shocking expression yet of their leadership's incompetence.

Many have raised questions as to how such a huge cargo of highly explosive material could have been left unsecured for years.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Lebanon on Thursday, called for an international inquiry, echoing demands widely supported in Lebanon and abroad for an independent probe.

"An international, open and transparent probe is needed to prevent things from remaining hidden and doubt from creeping in," he told reporters at the end of a snap visit to the Lebanese capital.

Macron said a French military aircraft carrier was hours away from landing in Beirut with "rescue teams and investigators to take the search and the probe forward".

The cataclysmic explosion, which left an estimated 300,000 people temporarily homeless and injured around 5,000 people, struck when Lebanon was already battling rampant inflation and rising poverty.

The International Monetary Fund has offered help but Lebanon's political leaders have balked at the measures the monetary institution is requesting for a rescue package to be approved.

To help ease the crisis, an international aid conference for Lebanon would be held "in the coming days," Macron said.

He stressed that the aid raised during the conference would be chanelled "directly to the people, the relief organisations and the teams that need it on the ground".

The French president took a tough tone on the reforms he said were the only thing holding back a massive aid package that could put the ailing country back in the saddle.

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."

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