Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab (R) submits his resignation to President Michel Aoun.
Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab (R) submits his resignation to President Michel Aoun.
PIC: AFP

Lebanon's prime minister stepped down from his job on Monday in the wake of the disastrous Beirut port explosion that triggered public fury, saying he has come to the conclusion that corruption in Lebanon is "bigger than the state."

In a brief televised speech after three of his ministers resigned, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that he is taking "a step back" so he can stand with the people "and fight the battle for change alongside them." "I declare today the resignation of this government. May God protect Lebanon," he said, repeating the last phrase three times.

The move risks opening the way to dragged-out negotiations over a new Cabinet amid urgent calls for reform.

It follows a weekend of anti-government protests in the wake of the August 4 explosion in Beirut's port that decimated the facility and caused widespread destruction, killing at least 160 people and injured about 6,000 others.

The moment typified Lebanon's political dilemma. Since October, there have been mass demonstrations demanding the departure of the entire sectarian-based leadership over entrenched corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.

But the ruling oligarchy has held onto power for so long - since the end of the civil war in 1990 - that it is difficult to find a credible political figure not tainted by connections to them.

Diab blamed corrupt politicians who preceded him for the "earthquake" that has hit Lebanon.

"They (political class) should have been ashamed of themselves because their corruption is what has led to this disaster that had been hidden for seven years," he added.

"I have discovered that corruption is bigger than the state and that the state is paralyzed by this (ruling) clique and cannot confront if or get rid of it," Diab, who was a university professor at the American University of Beirut before he took the job.

Although Diab's resignation had appeared inevitable after the catastrophe, he seemed unwilling to leave and only two days ago made a televised speech in which he offered to stay on for two months to allow for various factions to agree on a roadmap for reforms. But the pressure from within his own Cabinet proved to be too much.

Diab's government was formed after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, stepped down in October in response to the demonstrations. It took months of bickering among the leadership factions before they settled on Diab.

His government, which was supported by Hezbollah and its allies and seen as one-sided, was basically doomed from the start, tasked with meeting demands for reform but made up of all the factions that reformers want out. Now the process must start again, with Diab's government in a caretaker role as the same factions debate a new one.

"I hope that the caretaking period will not be long because the country cannot take that. Lets hope a new government will be formed quickly," Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told reporters.

The explosion is believed to have been caused by a fire that ignited a 2,750-ton stockpile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate. The material had been stored at the port since 2013 with few safeguards despite numerous warnings of the danger.

The result was a disaster Lebanese blame squarely on their leadership's corruption and neglect.

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