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Beirut blast: Death toll rises to 157; French President Macron urges independent probe

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Two days after a massive explosion ripped through Lebanon’s capital city Beirut, the death toll has climbed to 157, while the total number of injured people soared to 5,000, according to data released by Lebanon’s health ministry. The casualty figure is expected to rise further as dozens of victims are still missing after the blast, a ministry spokesperson said today.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is on a visit to the country, said an independent, transparent investigation into the massive explosion in Beirut is “owed to the victims and their families” by Lebanese authorities.

Just as Beirut entered a two-week state of Emergency, the city’s residents stormed the streets Thursday accusing government officials of gross negligence and mismanagement. The blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of highly volatile ammonium nitrate, which was stored at a warehouse in the city’s port for almost seven years. The protesters condemned state authorities for not disposing the explosive chemical, despite the colossal safety threat it posed, BBC reported.

Losses from the blast were estimated by Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud to be between USD 10 billion to USD 15 billion, who said nearly 300,000 people are homeless, reported AP.

The Lebanese government announced that it has placed a number of port officials, responsible for storage and security since 2014, under house arrest pending an investigation into the explosion. Lebanon’s Information Minister Manal Abdelsamad said that the arrests will be overseen by the military.

Here are today’s top developments from Beirut

Blast investigators get four days to find culprits

The Lebanese government has given the official investigative committee four days to identify the culprits responsible for the devastating explosion, Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe told a French radio station Thursday.

“This morning, a decision was taken to create an investigative committee which in four days maximum must provide a detailed report on responsibility — how, who, what, where? There will be judicial decisions,” Wehbe told Europe 1 radio.

WATCH: Driving through Beirut shows scale of damage, ruins and wreckageBeirut blast: Smoke rises in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

“Those responsible for this horrible crime of negligence will be punished by a committee of judges,” he added.

Rescue operations and search for missing victims continue

Rescue operations are in full swing in Beirut as scores of Lebanese soldiers, members of the Red Cross and volunteers continue their search for victims of the blast who remain missing. A fleet of boats has also been deployed to scan the coast for bodies and survivors.

According to Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s health sector is ill-equipped to deal with a crisis of this scale. Hospitals are running short of beds and equipment to treat the injured, BBC reported.

Meanwhile, hundreds of young Lebanese volunteers came together to clean the debris-strewn streets on Thursday. Large groups of volunteers were seen sweeping neighbourhoods and roads in Beirut, which were damaged after the blast. Many distributed food and medicine for those affected by the explosion.

Beirut explosion, Beirut blast, Beirut news, Beirut toll, Beirut explosion video, Beirut video, Beirut blast video, Indian ExpressBeirut blast: A Lebanese army helicopter throw water at the scene where an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

With many buildings and homes reduced to rubble, as many as 300,000 people have been rendered homeless, Beirut’s governor Marwan Aboud said.

French President Macron mobbed by protestors in Beirut

Soon after touching down in Beirut, French President Emmanuel Macron was mobbed by citizens calling for a “revolution” after the massive explosion on Tuesday brought the city to its knees, Reuters reported. Residents were hearing chanting “The people want the fall of the regime” and demanding the resignation of the countries’ president.

Three French planes carrying medical equipment, mobile clinic equipment and a team of as many as 55 rescuers also arrived in Beirut today.

Macron, who is the first world leader to visit the country after the blast, vowed to send more aid and to ensure that it does not fall in the hands of the corrupt. “But what is also needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era,” he said.

Three French planes carrying medical equipment, mobile clinic equipment and a team of as many as 55 rescuers also arrived in Beirut today.

German diplomat killed in Beirut blast

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has confirmed that an employee of the German embassy in Beirut was killed in the blast. The deceased woman is the only German casualty reported so far, Reuters reported.

“All of us at the foreign ministry are in deep mourning for our colleague,” Maas said in a statement. The news of the woman’s death “confirmed our worst fears”, the minister said.

Countries lend support to Beirut after blast

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A host of world leaders have vowed to support Lebanon as it reels from the recent explosion. Countries around the globe have sent aid, medical equipment and rescue teams to help the country deal with the aftermath.=

Countries including Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Russia and France have sent military planes carrying aid material for the victims of the blast. The Australian government has pledged $2 million Australian dollars ($1.4m) towards relief efforts in Beirut. Meanwhile, an Iraqi delegation vowed to provide fuel aid to the city.

According to state media, China too will be providing medical assistance and is set to send a team of healthcare professional from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL) to treat victims in Beirut.

The United Kingdom is sending a Royal Navy ship to help with rescue operations. It has also pledged a £5m pound humanitarian support package for the country.

Switzerland too has sent a team of specialists including engineers and logistics experts to Lebanon to help with the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut, reported AP. The Alpine nation says it is responding to a request from Lebanese authorities. The Swiss team, which also includes telecom engineers and a psychologist, will assist in securing the country’s damaged embassy and ambassadorial residence.

Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry says the experts also will be available to examine the condition of Lebanon’s public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Once again, Trump suggests that blasts were attack

US President Donald Trump Thursday reiterated that the explosion in Beirut may have been a planned attack, CNN reported. President Trump denied the Lebanese government’s claim that the blast was an accident that occurred due to large amounts of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port.

“How can you say accident if somebody left some terrible explosive-type devices and things around perhaps — perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was an attack,” the US president said in a White House briefing yesterday.

44,000 sign petition for France to take control of Lebanon

Over 44,000 people have signed an online petition to “place Lebanon under a French mandate for the next 10 years” as of Thursday afternoon, German news agency Deutsche Welle reported.

The petition on the community petition website Avaaz was reportedly set up by Lebanese citizens on Wednesday following the explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday, killing over 140 people and injuring more than 5,000.

“Lebanon’s officials have clearly shown a total inability to secure and manage the country,” the petition reads. “With a failing system, corruption, terrorism and militia the country has just reached its last breath.”

(With inputs from AP, Reuters, agencies) 

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