Protesters took to the streets of Beirut to vent their fury at their government, which they accuse of negligence following evidence that authorities knew about the ammonium nitrate and did nothing for seven years. [ Pic courtesy Anadolu Agency]
Iran wants the United States to lift sanctions against Lebanon and wants other countries to refrain from politicising last week’s Beirut explosion that killed at least 158 people and left more than 6,000 wounded.
Iran’s comments on Monday come a day after international leaders pledged $300m in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon following the devastating explosion that also left more than 300,000 people homeless in the capital city.
“The blast should not be used as an excuse for political aims … the cause of the blast should be investigated carefully,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a televised news conference on Monday.
“If America is honest about its assistance offer to Lebanon, they should lift sanctions.”
The international aid announced on Sunday would be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population” and offered support for an “impartial, credible and independent inquiry”.
“Lebanese authorities must now implement political and economic reforms demanded by the Lebanese people and which alone will enable the international community to act effectively alongside Lebanon for reconstruction,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who chaired the virtual donor conference.
Macron visited Beirut’s shattered streets on Thursday, two days after the chemical explosion in the dock area. Asked about the visit, Mousavi said: “Some countries have been trying to politicise this blast for their own interests.”
The explosion, whose mushroom cloud reminded many of an atomic bomb, left a 43-metre-deep (141-foot) crater at Beirut’s port, said a security official, citing French experts working in the disaster area.
It was triggered by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at a port warehouse since 2013.
Protesters have taken to the streets of Beirut to vent their fury at their government, which they accuse of negligence following evidence that authorities knew about the ammonium nitrate and did nothing for six years.
Police and the army responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in hundreds of protesters being wounded. At least one policeman has been killed, security forces said.
“Those who died paid the price of a state that doesn’t care about anything except power and money,” said protester Tamara, 23, whose friend Rawan, 20, was killed in the blast.
“It’s not enough that ministers resign,” said her friend Michel. “Those who put the explosives there must be held accountable. We want an international tribunal to tell us who killed [Rawan].”
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said people are “disillusioned” because they are up against a “militarised state”.
“Protesters are not under any illusion that changing or getting rid of the political and security establishment that has been in place for decades is going to be easy,” she said, speaking from the capital Beirut.
The protesters demand the wholesale removal of Lebanon’s ruling class, which they see living in luxury while millions endure job losses, deepening poverty, power blackouts and mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets.
Two ministers, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, resigned from their posts over the weekend, leading embattled Prime Minister Hassan Diab to propose early elections in order to break the impasse that is plunging Lebanon ever deeper into political and economic crisis.
Nine other members of parliament have also stepped down, but according to Khodr, those in power are adamant about keeping the government in place.
“There were reports that other ministers wanted to tender their resignation, but after intense negotiations behind closed doors, a minister belonging to the Hezbollah camp emerged and said: ‘We are not resigning, the government is still standing, and we will continue to carry out our duties and responsibilities towards our people’,” she said.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.