UN chief lays wreath at Beirut port, urges accountability for blast

His comments followed a meeting with Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri and a visit to the port.

 UN Secretary-General Guterres pays tribute to the victims of last year's Beirut port explosion at Beirut port (photo credit: REUTERS)
UN Secretary-General Guterres pays tribute to the victims of last year's Beirut port explosion at Beirut port
(photo credit: REUTERS)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday Lebanon needed proper accountability for the August 2020 Beirut port explosion on the second day of a visit aimed at rallying international support for the crisis-hit country.

His comments followed a meeting with Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri and a visit to the port, where he laid a wreath at a memorial for the more than 215 people killed when chemicals stored at the port for nearly years exploded.

"I know the suffering ... and the will of the people to have proper accountability and I want to express my solidarity to all the victims of that tragedy," he said.

Guterres, who arrived on Sunday, has called on Lebanese leaders to work to address an economic crisis that has left four in five Lebanese poor.

"Seeing the suffering of the people of Lebanon, Lebanese political leaders do not have the right to be divided and paralyze the country," Guterres said after a meeting with President Michel Aoun.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government has not met for more than two months amid a push by parties close to powerful politicians charged in connection with the blast to remove the judge leading an investigation.

A combination of satellite images shows the area, which was heavily damaged by a massive explosion and a blast wave, on August 5, 2020 and the same area on November 4, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon. (credit: RUSSIAN SPACE AGENCY ROSCOSMOS/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)A combination of satellite images shows the area, which was heavily damaged by a massive explosion and a blast wave, on August 5, 2020 and the same area on November 4, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon. (credit: RUSSIAN SPACE AGENCY ROSCOSMOS/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Guterres said in a video message ahead of his visit that he supported demands of Lebanese for "truth and justice" over the blast.

Many Lebanese blame the blast on the corruption and dysfunction normalized by a political elite that has been in power since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Berri also called on Guterres to help expedite indirect negotiations with Israel to resolve a dispute over Lebanon's southern maritime border.

The dispute centers on an area seen as promising for oil and gas exploration but several rounds of talks have made little progress.