Lebanon Questions Security Chief 08/10 06:24
BEIRUT (AP) -- A Lebanese judge on Monday began questioning the heads of the
country's security agencies over last week's devastating blast in Beirut as
another Cabinet minister resigned in protest.
Judge Ghassan El Khoury began questioning Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, the head of
State Security, according to state-run National News Agency. It gave no further
details, but other generals are scheduled to be questioned.
Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm, who was sprayed with water and verbally
attacked last week while visiting a damaged area, meanwhile handed her
resignation to the prime minister on Monday, the news agency said. She is the
third Cabinet minister to resign over the blast.
A Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Monday, amid speculation the government
could resign en masse. If a total of seven out of the 20 ministers resign, the
Cabinet would effectively become a caretaker government. At least nine members
of parliament have resigned.
The Aug. 4, blast killed 160 people and wounded about 6,000, in addition to
destroying the country's main port and damaging large parts of the capital.
Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion,
and nearly 300,000 people were left homeless in the immediate aftermath.
The explosion is believed to have been caused by a fire that ignited a
stockpile of explosive material that had been stored at the port since 2013.
The disaster has been widely blamed on years of corruption and neglect by the
entrenched political leadership that has governed Lebanon since its 1975-1990
About 20 people have been detained over the blast, including the head of
Lebanon's customs department and his predecessor, as well as the head of the
port. Dozens of people have been questioned, including two former Cabinet
ministers, according to government officials.
The investigation is focused on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly
explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at a warehouse in
Beirut's port for six years, and why nothing was done about it.
State Security had compiled a report about the dangers of storing the
material at the port and sent a copy to the offices of the president and prime
minister on July 20.
On Sunday, world leaders and international organizations pledged nearly $300
million in emergency humanitarian aid to Beirut in the wake of the devastating
explosion, but warned that no money for rebuilding the capital would be made
available until Lebanese authorities commit themselves to the political and
economic reforms demanded by the people.
Protesters have clashed with security forces over the past two days in
Beirut. The demonstrators blame the explosion and a severe economic crisis on
the ruling elite and are calling for sweeping political change. Similar
demonstrations last autumn fizzled out after several weeks.
Iran meanwhile expressed concern that Western countries and their allies
might exploit anger over the explosion to pursue their political interests.
Iran supports the Hezbollah militant group, which along with its allies
dominates the government and parliament.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said "it is natural for
people to be frustrated." But he said it would be "unacceptable if some
individuals, groups and foreign countries use the incident as a pretext for
their purposes and intentions."