Lebanese PM rejects political interference in Beirut port blast probe

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during an interview with Reuters at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 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 paralyse government.

Mikati has not convened the cabinet since October 12, pending a solution to the crisis over the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, whom the heavily armed group 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 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.

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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