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Canada ready to join Lebanon blast probe if it’s credible and transparent, Champagne says

Canada has offered to join Lebanon’s investigation into the Beirut port explosion on the condition that it is credible and transparent, the visiting foreign minister said on Thursday.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun initially promised a swift investigation into why highly explosive material stored unsafely for years detonated on Aug. 4, killing at least 180 people and injuring some 6,000. But he later said the process would take time.

Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said after meeting Aoun that Ottawa was ready to assist under conditions that would be defined. He did not elaborate.

“The Lebanese people expect that if Canada participates in this investigation it is because it is going to be credible, transparent and get to the bottom of things to get justice,” he said in televised remarks.

The Lebanese presidency on Thursday quoted Aoun as telling French magazine Paris Match that 25 people “directly or indirectly involved with the port” had so far been detained under the investigation. The probe would be transparent and hold to account “all those negligent without exception,” he said.

Beirut has said France and the FBI from the U.S. are helping to investigate the explosion that wrecked the port and swathes of the city, compounding an economic meltdown.

Champagne toured the site of the explosion.

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne surveys damage at the Beirut port following the deadly Aug. 4 explosions. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“Being at the site was surreal in a way,” he told reporters on a teleconference. “You have to smell it. You have to touch it. You have to feel it and see it, you know, the extent of the devastation of the bomb is something that is difficult to comprehend.

“It’s a very humbling experience when as a human being you see other human beings going through so much. It has been one tragedy after the other. People told me this is a tragedy of all [because] it kind of encompasses all of the other tragedies that this country has been going through.”

Watch | CBC News reporter Margaret Evans on Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne’s visit to Beirut:

CBC News reporter Margaret Evans updates us on Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne’s visit to the Lebanese capital. 2:36

Champagne, like other Western officials, said Lebanon must form a government that can implement long-demanded reforms to unlock foreign financial assistance. He said he made that case to the president when they met.

“I said, ‘Listen to the young people. Listen to the women in the street. Listen to the street. The street is sending you a message of reform, like colleagues have said, the international assistance needs to be linked to serious reform, governance needs to be at the centre of everything that we are doing now,'” Champagne told CBC News. 

“[What] I was telling him is seize the moment, be ambitious, the street has spoken loud and clear about what they expect and I think this is a moment to rethink Lebanon, a Lebanon that can be inclusive, that can be resilient. That was a message from the heart to the president and I hope that message will be heard.”

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, speaks with Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne during his trip to the region. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

The outgoing government that took office in January with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies resigned over the blast. No progress has been made in forming a new administration.

France’s foreign minister said Thursday that Lebanon risked disappearing due to the inaction of its political elite, who had been the target of protests even before the blast as the financial crisis pummelled the currency and spread poverty.

Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund about a bailout have stalled.

Damage at the Beirut port following a deadly Aug. 4 explosion. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)


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