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

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne gestures as he meets with a woman affected by the massive blast in Beirut’s port area, at World Food Program (WFP) distribution site in Beirut, Lebanon August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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. 

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 movement 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 pummelled the currency and spread poverty. 

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

Corruption must end, politicians must listen

Canadian Foreign Minister Franç​​​​​​​ois-Philippe Champagne surveys damage at the Beirut port following the deadly Aug. 4 explosions. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

The visiting minister reiterated on Thursday what the majority of world leaders said that assistance to Lebanon is conditional for reforms, emphasizing that “corruption must end and politicians must listen” to the cries of their people.

After meeting with President Aoun at Baabda Palace he headed to the blast area in Beirut port to check the damage inflicted by the explosion.

In remarks to reporters, Champagne stressed that “institutional reforms, water and energy” are all part of the requirements for reforms in Lebanon in order for world economic assistance to be released for the crisis-hit country. “If you are ready, we are ready,” he stated.

He noted that Canada has pledged 9 million dollars in aid for Lebanon in addition to 30 million approved earlier.

(Reuters)

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