Prime Minister Hassan Diab addressed the nation, announcing his resignation and that of his government in the wake of the blast, which he called a “disaster beyond measure.”
In an impassioned speech, Diab berated Lebanon’s ruling political elite for fostering what he called “an apparatus of corruption bigger than the state.”
“We have fought valiantly and with dignity,” he said, referring to members of his cabinet. “Between us and change is big powerful barrier.”
Diab compared Tuesday’s explosion to an “earthquake that rocked the country” prompting his government to resign. “We have decided to stand with the people,” he said.
Three cabinet ministers had already quit, along with seven members of parliament.
Violent protests erupted outside the prime minister’s office in the run-up to the scheduled speech on Monday evening.
Dozens of protesters hurled stones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at security forces who responded with several rounds of tear gas. Some demonstrators tried to scale the blast walls outside Parliament Square.
Lebanon was already suffering through its worst economic crisis in decades, coupled with rising coronavirus rates, and the government has been plagued by accusations of corruption and gross mismanagement.
Now the country will be tasked with finding its third prime minister in less than a year, to contend with the spiraling crises Lebanon faces on a number of fronts.
Lebanon’s currency has lost around 70% of its value since anti-government protests began last October. Poverty has soared, with the World Bank projecting that more than half of the country’s population would become poor in 2020.
The government had been seen as powerless in the face of a growing banking crisis. The state has not passed a capital controls law, exacerbating the country’s severe liquidity crunch.
Lebanon’s financial woes were exacerbated earlier this year by government-imposed lockdowns, designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic but which also brought the country’s ailing economy to a screeching halt.
Diab’s ministers had repeatedly accused the ruling class of disrupting their plans for reform.
Politicians aligned with the country’s banking elite torpedoed the government’s IMF-endorsed economic program, which had been expected to dig into bank profits.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a “credible and transparent” investigation into the explosion.
Guterres called on the donors to “give speedily and generously” to help the recovery efforts.
CNN’s Charbel Mallo, Mostafa Salem, Ghazi Balkiz, Jomana Karadsheh, Caroline Faraj and Barbara Arvanitidis contributed to this report.