Lebanon's parliament on Thursday (August 13th) approved a two-week state of emergency imposed by the government after last week's deadly Beirut port explosion that gives it legal authority to suppress resurgent protests.
Calls had circulated on social media networks for protestors to prevent lawmakers from entering the session -- the first since the August 4th blast that ravaged swathes of the capital.
But turnout was too low Thursday morning, ahead of official visits by French Defence Minister Florence Parly and David Hale, the top career diplomat at the US State Department.
Security forces outnumbered the dozen or so demonstrators who had gathered on a street near the UNESCO Palace in southern Beirut to heckle vehicles dashing to the debate, but they could not stop parliament from reaching a quorum.
There has been widespread anger against a political leadership which allowed a large shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate to rot for years in a port warehouse despite repeated safety warnings.
Lebanon's judiciary will question several ministers and former ministers over the disaster, a judicial official said Wednesday, which President Michel Aoun estimated had caused more than $15 billion worth of damage.
An AFP investigation found that up until the day before the deadly blast, officials had exchanged warnings over the cargo, but did nothing despite experts' fears it could cause a major conflagration.
As he presented his government's resignation on Monday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed the blast on decades of corruption and official mismanagement.
Even Aoun, a symbol of the status quo, has acknowledged the need to "reconsider" the country's governance after the disaster.
Parliament on Thursday approved the resignation of eight lawmakers who had stepped down since last week over the blast.
Urgent need for reforms
The government had already declared a two-week state of emergency on August 5th, the day after the explosion that killed 171 people, injured 6,500 and left 300,000 temporarily homeless in the country's worst peacetime disaster.
But as the measure lasts more than eight days, Lebanese law requires that it be approved by parliament, according to non-governmental organisation The Legal Agenda.
The state of emergency allows the army to close down assembly points and prohibit gatherings deemed threats to national security, and expands the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.
The army also can raid homes at any time and impose house arrest on anyone engaged in activities considered to threaten security, human rights groups said.
"Human Rights Watch is very concerned that the state of emergency would be used as a pretext to crack down on protests and snuff out the very legitimate grievances of a large segment of the Lebanese population," HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said.
The anger on the streets has reinvigorated a protest movement that had largely fizzled out in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and worsening economic crisis.
The explosion has also renewed calls by Lebanon's international partners for overdue reforms to shore up the deeply indebted economy.
Hale, who is to arrive in Lebanon for a three-day visit, will "stress the urgent need to embrace fundamental economic, financial and governance reform", a statement said.
"He will underscore America's willingness to support any government that reflects the will of the people and is genuinely committed to and acting upon such a reform agenda," the statement added.