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Lebanon's PM Hopes Cabinet Meetings Would Resume Soon

Lebanon's PM Hopes Cabinet Meetings Would Resume Soon

Tuesday, 26 October, 2021 - 10:15
Prime Minister Najib Mikati talks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Tuesday he hoped cabinet meetings would resume soon, as a standoff over an investigation into last year's Beirut port explosion continues to paralyze the government.

Mikati has not convened the cabinet since Oct. 12, pending a solution to the crisis over the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, whom Hezbollah and some of its allies accuse of bias and want removed from the probe.

"We are looking to resume cabinet sessions soon," Mikati, who took office in September, said during a conference at the Grand Serail, the government's headquarters. He did not specify a timeframe.

President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has said the judicial probe should continue and has rejected political interference in it, urged the government to resume meetings in order to reach a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

An IMF deal is widely seen as the only way for Lebanon to access desperately needed international aid.

Former officials Bitar has sought to question over the port explosion include several prominent Hezbollah allies suspected of negligence that led to the blast.

More than 215 people died in the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, caused by the detonation of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for years, apparently with the knowledge of senior politicians and security officials who did nothing about it. The blast also injured 6,000 people and destroyed parts of Beirut.

More than a year after the government launched a judicial investigation, nearly everything else remains unknown - from who ordered the shipment to why officials ignored repeated warnings of the danger.

In a Reuters interview on Friday, Economy Minister Amin Salam said the standoff over the blast investigation had cost Lebanon precious time in dealing with its economic meltdown.

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