BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s cabinet faced rising pressure on Monday to step down after a devastating blast that has stirred angry anti-government protests and resignations of several ministers, with the justice minister the latest to go and the finance minister set to quit.
The Aug. 4 port warehouse detonation of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed at least 158 people, injured over 6,000 and wrecked swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding months of political and economic meltdown.
The cabinet, formed in January with the backing of the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and its allies, was due to meet on Monday, with many ministers wanting to resign, ministerial and political sources said.
The information and environment ministers quit on Sunday as well as several lawmakers, and the justice minister followed them out the door on Monday.
Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, a key negotiator with the IMF over a rescue plan to help Lebanon exit a financial crisis, prepared his resignation letter and brought it with him to a cabinet meeting, a source close to him and local media said.
“The entire regime needs to change. It will make no difference if there is a new government,” Joe Haddad, an engineer, told Reuters. “We need quick elections.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.
Lebanon’s president had previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port. He later said the investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.
Beirut’s governor said many foreign workers and truck drivers remained missing and were assumed to be among the casualties, complicating efforts to identify the victims.