BEIRUT, Lebanon－Sixteen workers at Beirut’s port, the site of massive explosions, have been detained over the deadly blasts that devastated large parts of the Lebanese capital, a military prosecutor said on Thursday.
Lebanese authorities had announced an investigation into Tuesday’s explosions, which they said was triggered by a fire igniting 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Hassan Diab said on French radio on Thursday that an investigating committee had been given four days to determine responsibility for the blasts, which killed nearly 150 people and wounded at least 5,000.
Military prosecutor Fadi Akiki said in a statement that 18 employees at Beirut’s port had been called in for questioning, with 16 of them remaining in custody pending further investigations. They include port and customs officials as well as maintenance workers and their managers.
According to local media, Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud estimated on Wednesday that the explosions cost the city $3 billion to $5 billion in property losses, worsening the suffering of Lebanese amid an economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. A government reshuffle adds uncertainties to the recovery effort.
Tony Ramy, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants in Lebanon, said on Thursday that material damage to the tourism sector is valued at around $1 billion.
Pierre Ashkar, president of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, told Xinhua News Agency that direct and indirect losses may even exceed that mark.
He said that direct losses include the destruction of hotel properties, while indirect costs range from the inability to pay workers’ salaries to the lack of tourists resulting from the disaster. These factors will seriously impact the tourism sector, Ashkar said.
The deadly explosions came as the country was already mired in economic woes, with the economy in freefall for months. According to a report in July by online independent newspaper Elnashra, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers estimated that 150,000 Lebanese have lost their jobs in 2020 amid the economic deterioration.
Visiting French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for the creation of a new political order in Lebanon, MTV local TV channel reported.
“Lebanon is in urgent need for national unity to implement reforms in energy, the customs sector, the fight against corruption, in addition to conducting a transparent auditing for the central bank and the whole banking system,” Macron said in a news conference at the Pine Residence, the residence of the French ambassador.
He launched a political initiative aimed at helping the Lebanese adopt a roadmap for the structural reforms, while warning that France and the international community will help Lebanon only if authorities adopt the reforms quickly.
Macron said he would return to Beirut on Sept 1 to assess progress on the reforms adopted by Lebanese authorities.
Xinhua – Agencies