US envoy David Hale arrives in Beirut for talks amid international pressure for reform

US envoy David Hale arrives in Beirut for talks amid international pressure for reform
US envoy David Hale arrived in Beirut to discuss the reformation of the government, which resigned following criticism for the way it handled the twin explosions in the capital.
3 min read
13 August, 2020
David Hale will be in Lebanon for the next two days [Getty]

Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale arrives in Lebanon today and will remain for two days in order to push for urgent government and financial reforms following the Beirut explosions, where more than 171 people lost their lives and over 300,000 were made homeless.

The tragedy prompted protests to erupt across the country, as the Lebanese peoples’ demands for ending corruption and emphasising the need for transparency reached a crescendo.

According to the US Embassy in Lebanon, Hale will “reiterate the American government’s commitment to assist the Lebanese people in recovering from the tragedy and rebuilding their lives.

“In meetings with political leaders, civil society, and youth, Under Secretary Hale will stress the urgent need to embrace fundamental economic, financial, and governance reform, ending endemic corruption, bringing accountability and transparency, and introducing widespread state control through functioning institutions.”

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government resigned on Monday, however the move did little to quell the anger of protesters across the country, who are demanding the ruling elite take responsibility for the country’s worst peacetime disaster.

MPs meeting to discuss tragedy

Lebanese security forces were in full force in Beirut on Thursday in an effort to prevent protesters from entering a conference centre where MPs were meeting for the first time since the 3 August explosions.

They have been given unprecedented powers in the wake of a state of emergency, including enforcing house arrest on anyone engaging in activities that impose “a danger on security, entering people’s homes at any time and prohibiting gatherings that 'breach security'."

These new powers directly and detrimentally impact protesters and activists, and prohibit their freedom to gather and protest. 

Authorities say the blast was due to more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that exploded following years of being stored at the port without safety measures.

The meeting of MPs will take place at the UNESCO Palace, and demonstrators have already made their way there despite gates blocking the entrance.

“They are all criminals, they are who caused this catastrophe, this explosion,” said Lina Boubess, 60, a protester who was trying to reach UNESCO Palace, Reuters reports.

“Isn’t it enough that they stole our money, our lives, our dreams and the dreams of our children? What more do we have to lose. They are criminals, all of them means all of them.”

The government, which stays on in a caretaker capacity has been scrambling to come up with a solution to what many Lebanese people are saying is a tragedy which is its fault.

The government’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had stalled, and as authorities estimated losses at $15billion, the debt-ridden country is in trouble.

Following the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab earlier this week, a parliamentary session discussed a state of emergency, as well as the resignation of eight MPs who quit after the explosion.

But Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri “wants to give a political message - that the parliament exists - despite all this talk about early elections and the resignations of MPs”, a source told Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was the first world leader to visit Beirut after the explosion, has taken the lead role in coordinating the international response and at the weekend chaired a virtual aid conference that drummed up more than 250 million euros ($295 million) in pledges.

As aid pours into Lebanon, many, including Hale, emphasise the importance of a reformed government.

Hale will “underscore America’s willingness to support any government that reflects the will of the people and is genuinely committed to and acting upon such a reform agenda”.

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