Canada offers to join Lebanon blast probe if credible, transparent

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Canada has offered to join Lebanon’s investigation into the Beirut port explosion on condition that it is credible and transparent, the visiting foreign minister said on Thursday.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun initially promised a swift investigation into why highly explosive material stored unsafely for years detonated on Aug. 4, killing at least 180 people and injuring some 6,000.

But he later said the process would take time.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said after meeting Aoun that Ottawa was ready to assist under conditions that would be defined. He did not elaborate.

“The Lebanese people expect that if Canada participates in this investigation it is because it is going to be credible, transparent and get to the bottom of things to get justice,” he said in televised remarks.

A woman stands inside a damaged restaurant a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)
A woman stands inside a damaged restaurant a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

The Lebanese presidency on Thursday quoted Aoun as telling French magazine Paris Match that 25 people “directly or indirectly involved with the port” had so far been detained under the investigation. It would be transparent and hold to account “all those negligent without exception,” he said.

Beirut has said France and the United States’ FBI are helping investigate the explosion that wrecked the port and swathes of the city, compounding an economic meltdown.

Champagne, like other Western officials, said Lebanon must form a government that can implement long-demanded reforms to unlock foreign financial assistance.

“Everyone understands that the international aid must be accompanied by serious reforms,” Champagne said.

The outgoing government that took office in January with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies resigned over the blast. No progress has been made in forming a new administration.

France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Lebanon risked disappearing due to inaction of its political elite, who had been the target of protests even before the blast as the financial crisis pummeled the currency and spread poverty.

Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout have stalled.

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