"Revolution, revolution!" people chanted, as shock at the devastation in the city gave way to anger on Thursday. New information reveals that Beirut officials had ignored repeated warnings about a stockpile of dangerous chemicals linked to the blast that has killed 137 people and injured 5,000.
Macron told a crowd of reporters and angry people that he would propose a "new political pact" to Lebanon's embattled political class during his visit to a predominantly Christian quarter of the city.
"The people want the fall of the regime," the protesters shouted, echoing calls for the downfall of Lebanon's long-time political elite that were popularized during a nationwide uprising late last year. "Michel Aoun is a terrorist! Help us," one man pleaded, referring to the Lebanese president. One woman screamed inaudible words inches away from Macron's face. "They are terrorists," came the repeated cries.
Most people were masked, including the French president, who removed his face covering to speak to the press. There was no social distancing.
An Elysée Palace spokesperson told CNN that Macron said to Lebanese protesters: "I am here and it's my duty to help you, as a whole population, to bring medication and food.
"This aid, I guarantee it, won't end up in corrupt hands. I will speak to all political forces to ask for a new pact," Macron said, adding: "I am here today to propose a new political pact. If they [the political forces] are not able to keep this pact, I will take my responsibilities."
This was one of the first major displays of public disgruntlement after an explosion ripped through the city, damaging many of its buildings, and leaving neighborhoods in tatters.
There is a growing body of evidence, including emails and public court documents, that officials knew about a shipment of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate -- once described as a "floating bomb" -- that had been confiscated by Lebanese authorities and was being stored in a warehouse at the port for the past six years, but had failed to act.
The revelation that the blast could be attributed to government negligence has reignited long-held frustration at Lebanon's political class, which sunk the country deep into debt, and at endemic corruption that lined the pockets of the wealthy elite at the expense of basic public services and infrastructure.
The country was already seeing rising unemployment, soaring prices and a currency in free fall -- for many, the explosion is further proof of government ineptitude and corruption.
Macron took aim at Lebanon's political class while speaking to reporters at Residence des Pins, the French Ambassador's house in Beirut, later on Thursday.
He said France was organizing an "international conference" to help raise support for the country. Any funds raised would be handled with "full transparency," and "directly provided to the local population, the NGOs and teams on site that need it," he said.
There will be no "blank checks" given "to a system