Lebanon’s President: Justice will be served, economic siege now lifted

Via The Saker

Lebanon’s President: Justice will be served, economic siege now lifted

August 11, 2020

Original link: http://middleeastobserver.net/lebanons-president-justice-will-be-served-economic-siege-now-lifted/

Description:

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun fielded various questions from local media surrounding the fallout from the national disaster at the Port of Beirut on August the 4th.

Source: Al Jadeed News (YouTube)

Date: August 7, 2020

(Important Note: Please help us keep producing independent translations for you by contributing as little as $1/month here)

Transcript:

Lebanese President Michel Aoun:

Lebanese people are angry and I am angry too, and they have the right to be angry. But as you know, excessive anger causes people to boil with rage (and act incorrectly). So our responsibility today is to reveal the truth, because public opinion is slowly changing its direction, it is moving towards deflecting blame onto innocents and not the perpetrators. Nothing but the (ongoing) investigation can reveal what happened, and we are working on it, first by assigning the officials (responsible for the investigation), and then by following the required actions after this investigation.

I want to reaffirm today that we understand the heartache of the Lebanese people (who lost their dear ones), (hearts) that will not be healed unless they take revenge from the perpetrator. And punishing those responsible (for the explosion) is the only (possible) path that we can tread in order to heal the heartache.

In addition, we will seek to compensate them for their material losses. But this is not the real condolence. Rather, the real condolence is expressed by achieving justice. You know me or your parents do, I am Michel Aoun! You know me in war and in peace, no one can drive me towards (committing) a mistake and no one can prevent me from revealing the truth. I wanted to talk today so that all citizens hear me, and ultimately, I belong to these citizens, I did not come from the palaces but rather from the homes of these people. I know every house, I know all families from north to south and from east to west, and they feel my love and affection.

They knew me in war and in peace, they witnessed how I don’t draw back from any responsibility and I never hesitate to defend my country. In this sense, what is the homeland? The homeland is people. Today, I condole all (Lebanese) people with all my heart through these words, and my second condolence is expressed by realising justice, (a type of justice) in which no (guilty individual) will be excluded. This time is not like usual where the weak are the scapegoats of powerful officials. Here I recall the quote of Honore de Balzac, a famous French writer, “Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.” In this case, there will be neither weak nor powerful, the courts’ doors will be wide-open for the perpetrators (regardless who they are).

Reporter:

Your Excellency, in my name and on behalf of my (press) colleagues we extend our sincere condolences to you as President of all the Lebanese people. My question is: In the Council of Ministers you determined the structure of the investigation committee – have you received any information yet about this investigation? I mean the causes of the blast? And how do you take some people’s demand for an international investigation? Don’t you think that the purpose behind demanding an international investigation is hiding the truth?

President Aoun:

Yes of course, and we have a historical example in the form of a similar incident which indicates to us that “The late decision is useless”, because the judgment should occur fast. Here we refer to what they say, “Late justice is (in fact) not justice (at all)”, justice should be immediate yet without hastiness, such that the criminal is determined as well as the innocent.

In this case, we can say that there are two possibilities divided into three parts: The first part is how these explosive materials entered (our country) and were stored in the Port (of Beirut), and here the responsibility rests with the officials who were aware of the storage of these materials for 7 years. During this period, a number of governments and officials came to power, some of which wrote to the relevant (Lebanese) authorities in the port warning them about (the danger of) this issue. No doubt that there was a lack of awareness and negligence in doing what is required so that we don’t reach what has occurred today. It is possible that (the explosion) was caused by negligence or by external action, whether via a missile or a bomb. Personally, I requested the French President to provide us with aerial photographs (of the explosion) in order to determine if (the explosion) was caused by a bomb. In case they don’t have these photographs, we will request them from other countries.

Reporter:

Mr. President, you said that courts will be opened for (both) weak and powerful (Lebanese officials), you also said that there were (Lebanese) officials who have written letters about the danger of these (high) explosive materials in at the port, and yesterday we heard about arrests starting from the head of the port’s temporary committee and other employees. Today, Lebanese people are awaiting at least for the arrest of a former minister or a current minister or an official, yet till now we didn’t see any of this. The story begins in 2013 and stretches up until today, and thus there are many concerned ministers (in this file).

President Aoun:

Do you know how many problems have been accumulating from 2013 until today ?! Many (officials) came (to power) successively, and things need time. We can’t (just) randomly send any minister or citizen to jail. We have to be rational and to listen to the statements of all those tied (to this matter), in order (for us) to make the right decision.

Reporter:

Your excellency, if the (investigations) lead to the finding that (a) prime minister (holds) some responsibility (for the disaster), will that prime minister be prosecuted, in addition to all (officials) below the prime minister’s post (that are found to be in the wrong)? And will the (political) cover that is rooted in (each official’s) religious sect play a role this time as it usually does? And why are (political) investments being made directly accusing Hezbollah of being the responsible for the (Beirut) explosion by claiming that (Hezbollah) was hiding stuff there in the port. This (narrative) has caused much confusion. So, can we say now that the true story is the one that you have just told, Mr. President?

President Aoun:

The investigation has not revealed anything yet. The port officials and those who are responsible for the port storages are now under investigation. Those responsible for the explosion are being identified according to a report prepared by the (Lebanese) State Security.

Reporter:

Mr. President, yesterday Mr. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, was in Beirut. How was the atmosphere of the discussions? Did he discuss with you the issue of an international investigation into (the port) explosion because yesterday at the press conference he spoke about this issue when he was asked about it?

President Aoun:

(I think) it is just a piece of advice. The issue of an international investigation was not raised.

Reporter:

Well, how was the atmosphere of the discussions? Did you discuss France’s aid to Lebanon and was the CEDRE conference suggested (as a solution)?

President Aoun:

Definitely we spoke about aid but we didn’t specify what that will be. Today, we are before several types of aid:

1) food and medical aid;

2) reconstruction assistance.

(So far) we have resolved the first problem (concerning the food and medicine); we still have the issue of reconstruction which we are now in the process of planning how we will implement that.

Reporter:

Mr. President, yesterday the French President suggested a new issue which is forming a new pact with Lebanon. What is meant by a ‘new pact’? How did you receive this idea? Are we before the establishment of a new political regime? Are we before a new international understanding (regarding Lebanon as a polity)? Can you please clarify the French view in this regard?

President Aoun:

We are certainly before changes, and when we say changes we mean a new regime. So, yes, we have to reconsider our political system. It became clear to all that the consensual system (in Lebanon) is a paralysed system in which no one can pass any resolution and achieve it quickly. Any decision must be consensual and must be first approved by multiple authorities. Ten (people) cannot reach an agreement and that’s why rarely do we see reforms (being passed).

Reporter:

So, are we going towards internationalising the Lebanese conflict?

President Aoun:

No, no. if we are not able to govern ourselves, no one can govern us. Second, no one has the right to violate Lebanese sovereignty during my term as president.

Reporter:

Mr. President, some information or rather news stated that, your excellency was aware (that) the explosive materials were (stored there at) the port. So we would like to know about this issue from you. Also, you spoke about accountability, will the government pledge to proceed with the accountability process till the end and not spare any (corrupt official or individual)?

President Aoun:

Yes, we were informed around July 20. (A) military specialist directly called the Secretary General of (Lebanon’s) Higher Defence Council, discussed the issue together and called upon all those concerned. As I said, nothing can console and compensate people for their loss. What happened, those who have lost dear ones cannot be consoled. What may console people a little bit is the investigation and justice. In addition, there will be no political cover for anyone.

Reporter:

Mr. President, it is clear since a year ago that Lebanon has been facing an international siege or has been abandoned, whether by its regional or international surroundings. We have noticed in the previous two days after the (port) explosion that there is solidarity concerning essential foodstuffs, reconstruction and such matters. Yet it is clear that even during such a crisis and dire situation, (Lebanon) is still abandoned. Are there any endeavours being made to overcome these obstacles that have been placed, particularly by the Americans?

President Aoun:

The explosion broke the siege. Approximately all heads of states, i.e. the US, Arab and European states, communicated with me and declared their support for the Lebanese people and their readiness for financial and material aid. Indeed, all these states have started sending planes loaded with medical aid that we were really in need of. (Lebanese) hospitals have consumed all the available medicine they have. The number of people wounded and injured is nearly 4000, thus we are in need of all the materials used in surgery since they are almost finished. All the states responded to our calls rapidly, and you can notice the number of planes loaded with medicines and medical materials that are arriving.

Reporter:

Mr. President, you said that you received on July 20 a report from the relevant authorities and that both your Excellency and the Higher Defence Council have sent that report to the relevant (state) bodies. Your honour, as the President of this country and as the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, why didn’t you issue a direct order to remove these explosive materials especially since the report indicates how dangerous they are in such a populated area.

President Aoun:

These explosive materials were stored in the port from 7 years ago, from 2013. I am not responsible, nor do I even know where they are stored, nor how dangerous they are. I have no direct authority over the port, there is a hierarchy (with oversight over the port) that must know (and act) upon its responsibilities. All were aware of the presence (of these materials). Is not reporting the same as ordering? When you report something that says necessary actions must be taken, is it not the same as issuing an order?

Reporter:

Should not there be a complete revision of the entire port, since it seems like the (Port of Beirut) is like the Cave of Aladdin, no one knows what is stored inside it, nor what is going into it or out of it, nor does anyone have authority over it. Should not the port be (completely) overhauled?

President Aoun:

(Is an overhaul) required just for the port?!

Reporter:

At least the port, since it is the reason behind the disaster we are facing today, and the vagueness surrounding the port (and how it functions) has been an issue for a long time…

President Aoun:

It is the case at the Port (of Beirut), the Central Bank (of Lebanon) and all places of authority (and government institutions). Is there anything that does not require (urgent) change and reform (in Lebanon)? Why (else) are we talking about reforming (and establishing) a new political system as you said earlier? Do you have any idea about the (magnitude) of the cumulative and accumulated problems that we are suffering from since the 1990s?

Reporter:

General, you spoke about the public anger and you said that they are totally right. However, some political parties are investing in the public anger. You said that these explosive materials have been stored (in the port) since more than 7 years, but some are trying to place the responsibility of what is happening now on the current government. Moreover, some are trying to impose a blockade on a certain political party. What do you say about that?

President Aoun:

That is happening of course, and some have surpassed the normal limits. The person can make accusations (perhaps), but it is not his responsibility to decide to take revenge (himself). They are truly taking revenge, but not revenge from the perpetrators but rather political revenge. The way the (current) investigations around financial (corruption in the country) are taking place creates indignation and anger at us (the current presidential administration). This indignation arises against us because we are taking significant measures of reform that could affect certain people whom the (angry people) know very well. All (Lebanese) people know them well but no one mentions their names.

Reporter:

Mr. President, will what happened on August the 4th (i.e. the Port Disaster) be able to reunite the divided (Lebanese) political class, some of which is corrupt, and some of which is responsible for what happened today? But is it even possible for the (Lebanese people) to have the necessary awareness (and wisdom) after this disaster that befell Lebanon?

President Aoun:

No, they (certain politicians) sleep and wake up to the dream of gaining power through all possible means. Always people stand side by side as they face family, neighbourhood and national tragedies, even if there is enmity between them, real enmity, they overcome this enmity and keep it aside and go forward to carry out their duties. I didn’t hear yet that any of the (Lebanese politicians)…[inaudible]

Reporter:

Mr. President, you have mentioned that the international blockade is over following the August 4th (disaster). But on the 4th of August we were before a real catastrophe in terms of the loss of life and an economic catastrophe as well. Today Lebanon (continues) to suffer from this matter, can we say that international aid will be offered to Lebanon within this context?

President Aoun:

Yes, Lebanon will be offered significant international aid. We are setting up a plan aimed at rebuilding Beirut such that it will become more beautiful than what it was.

Reporter:

This talk confirms the holding of an international conference for the reconstruction of Lebanon ….

President Aoun:

Not just reconstructing – there are states ready to immediately launch the reconstruction (on their own). Though our idea is the most suitable, whereby it seeks to give every state a specific part (of the damaged area) to reconstruct it. This way the reconstruction will be accomplished faster and easier.

Reporter:

Will the investigation into this (disaster), Mr. President – you upon whom the Lebanese people rely and who believe your presidential term is one dedicated to reforms – allow us to break through the sectarian barriers and enable all related files to be opened transparently?

President Aoun:

Without investigation justice won’t be achieved. No one will admit his guilt without accountability. When held accountable, he will confess to it. And here our own problem lies. We cannot forgo (the principles of) justice and democracy. Instead of helping us (to unveil the truth) they (certain people) insult us on social media and they call it “free speech”. Even though there are laws that outlaw insults. It is only in Lebanon where you find that “insult” equals “free speech”.

%d bloggers like this: