In afflicted Beirut, Macron urges the Lebanese to “change the regime” and announces an international conference to support Lebanon after the port explosion

French President Emmanuel Macron announced in Beirut Thursday that he would propose to Lebanese officials a “new political pact” for “regime change”, shortly after his arrival in Lebanon on a support visit after the huge explosion that destroyed large parts from the capital, thousands were killed and wounded.

The blast, which occurred on Tuesday, killed at least 137 people, including a German diplomat, and injured five thousand others, according to a toll that is still temporary, as dozens are still missing, while hundreds of thousands suddenly became homeless as a result of the explosion.

Macron made the statements on Gemmayze Street in east Beirut, which was badly affected by the explosion and which the French President had visited on foot.

A group of Lebanese gathered around him chanting, “The people want to overthrow the regime,” and then “Revolution… Revolution” Help us.

The French President replied, “I am here to launch a new political initiative.

This is what I will express in the afternoon to Lebanese officials and political forces,” indicating the need to start “reforms … and change the system, stop division and fight corruption”.

Then he said, “I will be back on the first of September”.

In response to a request from some of the crowds not to hand over aid to the government, Macron said, “I assure you that this aid will be transparent, and it will go to the ground, and we will ensure that it does not go into the hands of corruption”.

“The priority today is to help and support the people without conditions,” Macron said upon his arrival at Beirut airport. 

But there is a demand that France has been raising for months and years about necessary reforms in several sectors, ”especially referring to the electricity sector, which is the worst among the infrastructure facilities that are already decaying, and has cost the state treasury more than $ 40 billion since the end of the civil war (1975-1990).

He added that he wishes to conduct a “sincere dialogue” with Lebanese officials, “because it is far from the explosion, we know that the crisis is dangerous and entails a historic responsibility for officials,” adding, “If reforms are not implemented, Lebanon will continue to drown”.

The international community and the International Monetary Fund are calling for Lebanon to undertake the necessary reforms as a condition for its support to get out of the economic collapse that it has witnessed for nearly a year.

On the other hand, Macron announced that he wanted to “organize international aid” after the huge explosion that turned the Lebanese capital into a disaster city.

Several countries, including France, sent relief teams and equipment to deal with the emergency situation after the explosion, which destroyed the port and a large part of the capital, and caused severe damage in areas relatively far from Beirut.

On Thursday, the European Union announced that it would provide 33 million euros to fund initial emergency aid to Lebanon, including an Italian hospital ship, to assist in relief efforts in Beirut.

A European source said that a donor conference is scheduled to collect additional funding for reconstruction after assessing needs.

The blast was caused by a fire that broke out in a warehouse in which about 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored for six years “without any preventive measures,” according to the authorities.

And it came in the midst of an unprecedented stifling economic crisis afflicting Lebanon, and a popular resentment against the entire political class that accuses officials of impotence, corruption and failure.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun received his French counterpart at Rafic Hariri International Airport.

After his field tour, Macron held three meetings with Aoun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut. 

He is currently meeting with representatives of political parties and civil society. 

He will hold a press conference before leaving.

And upon his exit from Baabda Palace, he expressed his hope that “investigations will be conducted as soon as possible in a completely independent and transparent framework, so that it will be possible to know what happened and the causes of the explosion”.

He said that he sensed “anger in the street,” noting that he had spoken with Aoun, Berri and Diab on the subject of “the political, moral, economic and financial crisis that has been going on for years with much frankness”.

Macron had visited the site of the explosion, where an officer from the French rescue team that helps Lebanese teams search for survivors told him that there is still hope to find survivors.

“We believe that there is still hope to find survivors,” Colonel Vincent Tessier said, noting that the search is continuing “for seven or eight missing individuals who are supposed to be stuck” in a hall destroyed by the explosion.

Today, a ceremony was held for a number of victims of the explosion.

At the same time, Beirut residents and a large number of young men and women volunteers continue to clean the capital’s streets in the absence of state agencies. 

They collect shattered glass everywhere, and are making repairs to make some apartments habitable. 

Many are active in providing food and basic aid.

On Mar Mikhael Street in Beirut, Khalil (78 years), who has lived in the area for fifty years, said Wednesday, “What happened yesterday did not happen to us a day like it, not even in dreams, we were imagining something similar.”

The Governor of Beirut, Marwan Abboud, told AFP on Wednesday that there are “between 250 and 300 thousand people who are left without homes, because their homes have become uninhabitable,” noting that “about half of Beirut was damaged or destroyed”.

This explosion is considered the largest in the history of Lebanon, which has witnessed decades of unrest, wars, bombings and crises.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said on Thursday in an interview with “Europe 1” radio that an investigation committee “has been established, which” must submit a report within four days about the responsibilities,” adding, “There will be judicial decisions”.

This came in a press conference in the Lebanese capital, two days after a massive explosion took place in the port of Beirut, which left 137 dead and about 5,000 wounded, in addition to heavy physical damage to facilities, installations and homes.

Jambulat called for “elections to be held on a non-sectarian basis, and for the formation of an international investigation committee into the Beirut port explosion”.

He said: “There is a gross failure of the judiciary and the security services. Today they are trying to disown. 

Therefore, we do not believe in a local investigation committee, and we absolutely do not trust this ruling gang.

Jambulat added: “From the little information that I have, this huge amount of ammonium (highly explosive) that came to the port of Beirut and settled it for about 6 years, does not explode alone, it needs a bolt”.

He added, “Without an international and Arab embrace, we cannot continue and all of Greater Lebanon may disappear,” referring to the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to his country.

He went on to say: “The conversation with Macron will be great. 

There must be effective control over the ports and crossings, and there must be a neutral government that takes us out of those axes, regardless of the loss.

The Lebanese woke up from the shock of the Beirut port explosion, Tuesday, to pour their anger on the government and officials, especially those who held positions related to the entry of the shipment of “ammonium nitrate” into their country.

Tuesday’s explosion increases the pain of a country that has been suffering for months, the repercussions of a severe economic crisis and severe political polarization, in a scene where regional and international parties overlap.