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A year since the blast, more authorities’ criminal negligence, lira drops again: Everything you need to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Wednesday, Aug. 4

A year since the blast, more authorities’ criminal negligence, lira drops again: Everything you need to know today

“The Gesture,” a 25- meter sculpture by Lebanese architect Nadim Karam, stands at the Beirut port a year after the explosion. (Credit: Imad Creidi/Reuters)

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Today marks a year since the massive explosion at the Beirut port, which killed 218 people and devastated the whole neighborhoods of the capital. Government offices, banks and many businesses will close their doors to observe a day of mourning, while several commemorations and demonstrations are planned, notably a gathering at 6:07 p.m. — the minute the explosion erupted — at the port. A year on, the investigation is underfunded, secretive and plodding; no top officials have been held accountable, despite mounting evidence suggesting at least negligence at senior levels. Reconstruction efforts, meanwhile, have been similarly slow and largely privatized, with the state too poor and disorganized to mount an effective response. Today, France and the United Nations will host an aid conference for the country — currently in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades — with the aim of raising $357 million, according to our sister publication L’Orient-Le Jour.

Human Rights Watch published a landmark report documenting multiple failures to properly deal with the ammonium nitrate that arrived at Beirut’s port in 2013. According to evidence presented by the rights group, several senior officials knew about the chemical — and the dangers it presented — prior to the Aug. 4 explosion, including President Michel Aoun, caretaker Premier Hassan Diab and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. The group concludes that “evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring,” adding that “this could amount to the crime of homicide with probable intent, and/or unintentional homicide.” Most senior officials are protected from scrutiny in the case by constitutional immunity or an unwillingness by other officials to allow judicial proceedings to advance.

The lira weakened Tuesday, again breaking the LL20,000-to-the-dollar mark. The latest fall comes after Monday’s meeting between President Michel Aoun and Premier-designate Najib Mikati regarding government formation. The discussions appeared to conclude on a sour note, with Mikati describing the process as “slow”; the pair are scheduled to meet again tomorrow. Lebanon has been without a government since Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned in the wake of the Beirut port explosion.

The already abysmal electricity situation in North Lebanon is poised to worsen. Butec Utility Services, a network maintenance and service company contracted by Électricité du Liban in the north, yesterday announced it would suspend addressing some network faults due to a lack of foreign currency needed to import equipment and supplies. The company claims EDL had ceased paying it in the dollars required to purchase necessary imported equipment and supplies for the maintenance and operation of the distribution network. The announcement comes as many areas already experience state power outages of up to 23 hours per day and as fuel shortages take backup generators offline, leaving many powerless for hours on end during the hottest and most humid time of year in Lebanon. The cuts are also seriously compromising business operations. Bakery owners in North Lebanon yesterday warned that some bakeries are in danger of closing due their inability to secure diesel to ensure their power supply.

Wildfires continue to rage in Akkar amid an ongoing heatwave. The army deployed two helicopters yesterday to tackle the latest blaze, which was still burning in the Wadi Jehannam region of Akkar last night. The fires have so far devastated more than 900 hectares of forest, our sister publication L’Orient-Le Jour reported. The environmental council in Akkar yesterday said they would launch an investigation into the fire that tore through forested land in Qobaiyat last week on suspicion it was started intentionally.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email. Click here to sign up.Today marks a year since the massive explosion at the Beirut port, which killed 218 people and devastated the whole neighborhoods of the capital. Government offices, banks and many businesses will close their doors to observe a day of mourning, while several commemorations and demonstrations are planned, notably a gathering at 6:07...