A massive anti-government protest is planned for central Beirut on Saturday as many Lebanese citizens have blamed leaders’ incompetence for the deadly explosion that leveled the city’s main port earlier this week.
Small protests broke out near the country’s parliament in the city Thursday night, with demonstrators flinging stones at police and setting fires. Law enforcement authorities responded by firing tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
The protesters are calling for the resignation of the country’s political elite.
Word of Saturday’s protest spread online Friday with calls for demonstrators to gather in Martyrs’ Square, a downtown hub that became a central location for uprisings that ousted the country’s prime minister last year, but stopped short of overthrowing the political system, the Guardian reported.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the city and said his country would provide aid to Beirut — and appeared to be sympathetic to protesters calling for a new political order in Lebanon.
Macron, whose country previously ruled Lebanon as a colonial power, said France would not give “blank checks to a system that no longer has the trust of its people.”
After visiting the blast site, Macron walked in a devastated neighborhood as people chanted anti-government slogans and called for a revolution in the country.
The French president added that he would call for “a new political pact” when he met with Lebanon’s political leaders later in the day.
Since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990, Lebanon has had a sectarian power-sharing government in which the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of Parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.
The factions in power — including Iranian-backed Hezbollah — have used the system for cronyism, which has led to widespread corruption in the government.
This extended to the port of Beirut, where bribery was rampant and goods were often hidden from taxes and duties.
The explosion at the port Tuesday, which killed more than 150 people and injured thousands, reportedly was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, roughly equivalent to 1,100 tons of TNT.
The combustible material — typically used to make fertilizers and explosives — is believed to have been carried on a vessel owned by a Russian businessman, who allegedly abandoned the cargo at the port roughly seven years ago.
With Post wires