Saad Hariri: Beirut blast anniversary no launchpad for electoral campaigns

Lebanon’s former prime minister condemns political rivals and calls for international probe into explosion

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri says it is not the time to try to influence Lebanese public opinion. AFP

Listen to the latest podcast on the Beirut blast here.

Lebanon's former prime minister Saad Hariri cautioned against using the one-year anniversary of the Beirut explosion on Wednesday to score political gains.

“The volcano that devastated Beirut, its people and its neighbourhoods, is not a platform for bidding and political investment in the grief of afflicted citizens,” he said in a tweet on Tuesday.

“This is a day to liberate justice from political duels and media trials, not a day to launch electoral campaigns and bribe Lebanese public opinion with justice on demand.”

The remark is a veiled reference to political rivals and opposition groups likely to contest next year’s parliamentary elections.

Civil society groups have organised protests and marches to mark the blast and demand justice, gatherings that are expected to draw large crowds on Wednesday.

The international community and local demonstrators have accused Lebanon’s entrenched political class of widespread corruption and political inaction in the midst of severe economic collapse.

The explosion killed at least 214 people and wounded 6,500 others. But an investigation has yet to determine who was responsible for the devastation in a country where the judiciary is highly politicised.

Mr Hariri also repeated his call for an international probe into the port blast should parliamentarians fail to amend Lebanon’s constitution to prosecute powerful officials.

“There will be no truth without either a transparent international investigation or the suspension of constitutional articles to strip everyone of immunity,” he said.

Mr Hariri said last week that his parliamentary bloc was working on a proposal to lift immunity from all officials in the port investigation, a plan backed by political leaders including Parliament speaker Nabih Berri.

Civil society activists have accused Mr Hariri and others of seeking to further delay the probe by introducing constitutional amendments that may prove difficult to carry out.

Immunity from prosecution

Parliamentarians enjoy immunity from prosecution if they are in session.

Investigative judge Tarek Bitar last month requested to strip members of Parliament and former ministers Nohad Machnouk, Ali Hassan Khali and Ghazi Zeaiter of their immunity in the blast probe, and called for other high officials to face prosecution.

The suggestion sparked hope that powerful officials may yet be held accountable for the devastating explosion but Parliament has yet to rule on Mr Bitar’s request.

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for a year as sectarian leaders bicker over their shares of ministerial portfolios in the next government. Mr Hariri stepped down as prime minister-designate last month after nine months of bickering with the president over the Cabinet's makeup.

The three-time prime minister said the explosion highlighted “the state of loss, denial, neglect in the political, judicial, administrative and military institutions”.

All parties should refrain from pressuring the judiciary and intervening in the probe, President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday, calling on indicted officials to cooperate with the lead investigative judge.

"The challenge that the lead investigator and the judiciary will face later on is to reveal the truth, conduct a trial, and issue a fair ruling in an acceptable period of time, because delayed justice is no justice," Mr Aoun said in a brief speech on the eve of the blast's one-year anniversary.

Updated: August 04, 2021, 5:44 AM