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Beirut blast puts ‘Lebanon’s future at stake’, world leaders told in emergency meeting

Emmanuel Macron and the United Nations on Sunday night Australian-time.

The Prime Minister pledged a further $3 million in humanitarian aid on top of the $2 million he promised hours after last week’s disaster.

Morrison told leaders, including US President Donald Trump, that although Australia was far from Lebanon, it was joining the international effort as a leading member of the global community and because Australia has longstanding ties to the country – particularly through the large Lebanese community in Sydney and Melbourne.

An aerial view of heavily damaged buildings near the blast site.

An aerial view of heavily damaged buildings near the blast site.Credit:Getty

The $5 million in emergency funding from Australia will be delivered through charities including the Red Cross, UNICEF and World Food Programme.

Morrison also said Australia was “ready to provide more in response to requests”.

Critically, the Prime Minister backed calls by Macron and others for urgent reforms in Lebanon, which has long struggled with government corruption and political instability.

Protests have broken out on the streets of Beirut over the weekend as shock from Tuesday’s explosion gave way to anger about government corruption, negligence and economic mismanagement.

Nearly 800 people have been injured in the demonstrations.

Lebanon was unable to meet a $1.2 billion Eurobond debt repayment in March and talks to secure a $10 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund have stalled. The value of the lira has collapsed by 80 per cent in less than a year, inflation is skyrocketing and more than a third of the overall workforce is unemployed.

Morrison said reform in Lebanon would ensure Australian support delivered more benefits to more people.

He also joined other leaders, including Trump and Macron, in calling for a full, impartial and credible investigation into the explosions.

Two senior Lebanese government ministers resigned on the weekend amid rising anger over the state of the country’s economy and revelations that up to 2750-tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored in the Beirut waterfront warehouse for up to six years.

One who quit, the Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad, said that change remained “elusive”.

“I want to apologise to the Lebanese people, whose aspirations we were unable to fulfil due to the difficulty of the challenges facing us,” she said.

Seven MPs have now resigned following the disaster and pressure is mounting on President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab to stand down.

Macron opened Sunday night’s summit by warning that “Lebanon’s future is at stake”. Lebanon was a colony of France from 1920 until independence in 1943.

In a reference to the protests in Beirut, Macron said: “The Lebanese people are free and sovereign. It is up to the authorities of the country to act in such a way as to prevent Lebanon from falling, and to respond to the aspirations expressed by the Lebanese people in this very moment, legitimately, in the streets of Beirut.”

Morrison joined the summit after a previous call with Macron in which the Prime Minister explained Australia had a large Lebanese community and wanted to do more to help.

The Australian embassy was damaged in Tuesday’s blast and consular staff are working to assist Australian survivors from the home of ambassador Rebekah Grindlay.

Isaac Oehlers is so far the only Australian killed or seriously injured in the incident.

His family said they were “heartbroken by the sudden and tragic loss of our beautiful boy” and said he would be deeply missed by family and friends.

Morrison said the family was receiving help from consular officials.


“Australians will be joining the Oehlers family in the heartbreak of the terrible loss suffered with the tragic death of their beautiful two-year-old son Isaac in the explosion disaster that occurred in Beirut earlier this week,” he said “It is just so terribly sad.

“Australia has a vibrant Lebanese Australian community, who is grieving with the Oehlers family and for all their family and friends who have been devastated by this tragedy. Jenny and I join you in that grief and pray for your comfort and strength.”

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