Lebanese president says government blockage must end

AFP

3 min read
A Lebanese flag set by citizens flies in front the site of Tuesday's explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020
AP / Hassan Ammar 2020 ©A Lebanese flag set by citizens flies in front the site of Tuesday's explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020

Efforts by Nabih Bitar to interrogate ex-ministers about the 2020 explosion are challenged with lawsuits

Lebanon's president on Monday called for an end to a government boycott, implicitly criticizing his ally Hezbollah for blocking cabinet meetings since October over demands to fire a judge.

Lebanon's fragile government, formed in September to stem the country's worst financial crisis, did not meet for more than two months since October 12.

The Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and its Amal movement ally headed by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri are spearheading the boycott.

They are demanding the replacement of judge Tarek Bitar, investigating a blast that ripped through the capital Beirut in August 2020.

An explosion of a shipment of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored haphazardly in a port warehouse for years killed at least 215 people and disfigured the capital.

Top political and security officials knew of the dangers posed by the shipment but failed to take action.

Efforts by Bitar to interrogate ex-ministers are challenged with lawsuits. At the same time, Hezbollah and Amal accuse him of politicizing the probe.

"It is imperative that the cabinet meets and remedies... the problems in the Council of Ministers," President Michel Aoun said in a televised speech.

"By which law, by which logic, by which constitution is the Council of Ministers blocked, asked to make a decision that does not fall within its powers," he said.

Without naming them, he was referring to the demands from Hezbollah and Amal that cabinet deal with their demand to remove Bitar.

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one the planet's worst since the mid-19th century.

More than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. The local currency lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market.

Political squabbling hampered financial recovery, including talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Last week Aoun said Lebanon would need "six to seven years" to emerge from its crisis, while some experts say it would be much longer.

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