Lebanese peope during a vigil for the victims lost in a massive explosion in Beirut. File
The government resigned after the blast that killed more than 170 people, injured at least 6,000 and wrecked the capital's port and caused widespread damage across the capital.
The disaster has raised popular fury toward Lebanon's leaders to a new level as the country reels from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, along with the coronavirus pandemic.
Before it resigned, the government declared the state of emergency that gave the military the power to declare curfews, prevent public gatherings and censor the media, as well as refer civilians to military tribunals for alleged security breaches. The action required approval by lawmakers, which they granted Thursday.
The move has been criticised by rights groups and others who say the civilian government already was operating with increased powers because of the coronavirus outbreak. Some pointed to the military crackdown on protesters last week, fearing the extended powers could lead to silencing dissent.
Parliament met outside its regular location to observe social distancing amid a surge of coronavirus cases and because of nearby ongoing protests by those who want the entire political class to step down.
The session opened with a moment of silence for those killed in the blast. It then moved to discuss the resignation of nearly a dozen lawmakers last week to protest the government's handling of the blast. A major Christian party bloc is boycotting the session.
It still was not known what caused the fire responsible for igniting nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that were stored for years in Beirut's port. But documents have emerged that show the country's top leadership and security officials were aware of the stockpile.
After the government resigned on Monday, the cabinet is in a caretaker capacity.
It was not immediately clear if Parliament had technically extended the government decision on the state of emergency for 15 days or simply imposed it to take effect starting from Thursday, said rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh.
"There is incredible chaos," Saghieh said. He said the state of emergency's only justification is to extend the power of the state and security agencies and "control the opposition."
"We were waiting for the army to help in reconstruction, not be an extension of power,” he said.
Lawmaker Simon Abi Ramieh protested that Parliament was convened to vote on the state of emergency while it was already in effect and called instead for forming a parliamentary committee to investigate the explosion.
"We are living in a state of institutional blunder,” he said. "We are in a place and the Lebanese people are somewhere else. ... The public wants to know the truth behind the negligence that led to the explosion.”
Lebanon's political landscape has been shaken by the events. Before resigning, the caretaker prime minister proposed early elections, an idea that was not supported by the Parliament speaker and other political groups.
Also on Thursday, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale was due to arrive in Lebanon for a two-day visit. Hale is expected to "reiterate the American government’s commitment to assist the Lebanese people in recovering from the tragedy and rebuilding their lives,” a statement by the US Embassy said. He will also stress the "urgent need” for embracing fundamental reforms.
"I hope whoever hears my words will support, even if it is with the word. We need to feel that we can heal each other’s wounds, support each other. I wish all of you success until we meet at the celebration that will mark Lebanon’s freedom. That day will come. "
The UAE has dispatched more aid to Lebanon to help emergency relief efforts in Beirut. The move follows the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.
‘It's not easy at all, but I had to finally leave. I feel I've betrayed the city I love to death, but there is nothing left for me there except depression,’ Hammoud said after arriving in the Gulf emirate.
After being trapped in the debris of a building in Izmir for almost 18 hours, a mother and three of her children were pulled to safety. A teenager and her dog were also saved.
Mass weddings have a great societal value among Emiratis as they promote happiness and tolerance, says Hessa Buhumaid.
Turkish authorities registered nearly 600 aftershocks, dozens of them stronger than 4.0 magnitude, complicating the search for those believed to still be breathing under mountains of concrete debris.