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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Lebanon’s parliament on Tuesday passed a state of emergency giving the military sweeping powers to stop any action deemed a threat national security in the wake of last week's blast in Beirut.
Activists and protesters worry the order will pave the way for a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators who have taken to the streets to demand change since the explosion that killed 171 and wounded over 6,000.
The state of emergency allows the army to close down assembly points and prohibit gatherings deemed threats to national security, and expands the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.
The army can also raid homes at any time and impose house arrest on anyone engaged in activities considered to threaten security, the watchdog said.
“Parliament is convening to decide on a state of emergency, meaning arbitrary arrests and the smothering of liberties,” shouted a protester with a megaphone outside the session held in Unesco palace.
“The excuse is national security, but the purpose is to cover up for the Beirut massacre," she shouted. “Retribution is for the regime. Justice is for the victims."
The government declared a two-week state of emergency on August 5 but as the measure lasts more than eight days, Lebanese law requires that it be approved by parliament, according to human rights watchdog The Legal Agenda.
There has been widespread anger against authorities who allowed a large shipment of ammonium nitrate fertiliser to rot for years in a warehouse at the port despite repeated warnings.
Protests have rocked central Beirut on successive nights leading to scuffles with security forces who have fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government stepped down on Monday after several ministers said they would quit over the explosion.
Speaker Nabih Berri had said Thursday’s session would be to question ministers on the blast but with Cabinet's resignation it was no longer possible.
MPs met as politicians jockey over the next government and blame for the disaster.
Mr Berri claimed there was a plot against parliament but did not provide specifics.
"Over the past two weeks, a plot has been hatched involving the resignation of MPs and over the government's willingness to question parliament,” he said.
Parliament accepted the resignation of seven MPs and began discussions on passing a state of emergency in the wake of last week’s explosion at Beirut port that left 171 dead and over 6,000 wounded.
MP Simon Abi Ramia told reporters on his way in that he was hesitant to attend. “We are living in institutional chaos,” he said.
If endorsed, the state of emergency law will give the military exceptional powers to snuff out renewed protests demanding the overthrow of a political elite widely held responsible for the devastating blast, human rights groups said.
Only three caretaker ministers have so far arrived, deputy prime minister and defence minister Zeina Akar, interior minister Mohammad Fahmy and culture and agriculture minister Abbas Mortada.
Kataeb’s Sami Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel and Elias Hankash, Independent MP Paula Yacoubian and Zgharta MP Michel Moawad, Keserouan MP Neemat Frem and Aley MP Henry Helou all resigned in the wake of the disaster.
The resignation of former minister MP Marwan Hamadeh, however, was suspended as he said he would quit if there is no international investigation into the explosion – something President Michel has vowed will not happen.
MPs convened as a senior US state department official was due to arrive in Lebanon. French Defence Minister Florence Parly was also set to land in Beirut a week after President Emmanuel Macron met with Beirutis and politicians.
The US State Department said Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale will “stress the urgent need to embrace fundamental economic, financial, and governance reform.” – additional reporting by agencies
Updated: August 13, 2020 02:12 PM
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