Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab has said he will request an early parliamentary election in a bid to defuse a worsening crisis following a devastating explosion at the port of the capital.
Diab’s comments on Saturday came as security forces clashed with protesters angry at the country’s ruling class which they hold responsible for Tuesday’s explosion that ripped through Beirut, killing more than 150 people and wounding some 6,000.
“We cannot get out of this crisis without early parliamentary elections,” Diab said in a televised address, echoing demands of a mass protest movement that erupted in October last year calling for the removal of leaders it deemed corrupt and inept.
“On Monday, I will propose to cabinet a draft bill for early parliamentary polls,” he added.
Diab, whose cabinet won a vote of confidence in parliament in February after the anti-establishment protests forced the resignation of his predecessor, Saad Hariri, said he was not to blame for Lebanon’s severe economic and political trouble.
In his address, the prime minister urged all political parties to put aside their disagreements and said he was prepared to stay in the post for two months to allow time for politicians to work on structural reforms.
In May 2018, Lebanon held its first parliamentary polls in nine years after the deeply divided legislature repeatedly extended its own term.
But the election failed to shake up the multi-confessional country’s entrenched ruling class.
Shortly before Diab’s speech, a group of demonstrators in Beirut took over the foreign ministry as a new headquarters for their uprising. Protesters also broke into the energy and economy ministries.
Some of the protesters pulled the portrait of President Michel Aoun off the wall and smashed it on the ground.
The government has pledged to hold those responsible for Tuesday’s explosion accountable, but many Lebanese are not convinced.
During Saturday’s protests, some set up nooses on wooden frames as a symbolic warning to the country’s leaders.
Officials have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at a port warehouse.