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'People want revenge': Heated protests in Beirut call for accountability after port blast kills 158

At least 158 people were killed in the blast, and 6,000 have been injured.

Updated Aug 8th 2020, 6:30 PM

lebanon-explosion People gather during a protest against the political elites and the Lebanese government. Source: Felipe Dana via PA Images

LEBANESE PROTESTERS HAVE stormed the foreign ministry in Beirut as anger boiled over a deadly blast that made hundreds of thousands homeless and shocked the world.

Thousands of demonstrators, some of them brandishing nooses, had descended on the city centre to vent their fury at politicians they blame for Tuesday’s explosion, which levelled Beirut port and killed at least 158 people. 

Amid the outpouring of rage, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would seek early elections, saying it was the only way to “exit the country’s structural crisis”.

Demonstrators marched through streets ravaged by the blast, gathering in the central Martyrs’ Square.

Protesters also stormed the headquarters of the Lebanese association of banks, where a large blaze started. They were later chased out by security forces who entered via a back door and doused the fire.

“There is hatred and there is blood between us and our authorities,” said Najib Farah, a 35-year-old protester in central Beirut. “The people want revenge.”

lebanon-explosion Anti-government protesters climb concrete wall that installed by security forces and throw stones against the Lebanese army. Source: Hussein Malla

On a street leading to parliament, young men lobbed stones at security forces who replied with tear gas, a familiar sight in Lebanon since last October.

Thousands of young men and women earlier revived the main camp of a months-long protest movement, some of them carrying portraits of blast victims and a banner bearing the names of the dead.

They pinned the blame for Tuesday’s mega-blast at Beirut port on leaders they say deserve nothing less than the fate of the 158 people who died as a result.

“My government murdered my people,” read one sign.

lebanon-explosion Anti-government protesters stand inside the Lebanese foreign ministry. Source: AP/PA Images

“You were corrupt, now you are criminals,” read another.

Among the main hashtags used on social media to rally protesters was #HangThem, and demonstrators had set up mock gallows on the main square.

The health ministry said at least 158 people had died as a result of Tuesday’s explosion, an estimated 6,000 were wounded and at least 21 were missing.

This comes two days after a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, and as diplomatic activity intensified in Beirut to organise international support for the disaster-hit country ahead of an aid conference tomorrow.

A fire at Beirut port on Tuesday ignited a stock of ammonium nitrate and triggered an explosion that was felt in neighbouring countries and destroyed entire neighbourhoods of the city.

Spectacular videos of the disaster show a mushroom-shaped shockwave that drew comparisons with the 1945 atomic bombs on Japan while foreign rescue teams compared the devastation with earthquake scenes.

Today could be the last day anybody buried under rubble has any chance of being found alive and according to the health ministry, more than 60 people are still missing.

There has been solidarity for the victims of the blast from inside and outside Lebanon, but the scale of the disaster suggests someone in power should be held accountable.

‘Punish them’

The president and prime minister of Lebanon have both promised that a government investigation would net the culprits but, more than a mere case of negligence, many Lebanese see the blast as a direct result of their leaders’ corruption.

“After three days of cleaning, removing rubble and licking our wounds… it is time to let our anger explode and punish them,” said Fares Halabi, a 28-year-old activist planned to join a protest scheduled for the afternoon.

lebanon-explosion People clash with police during a protest against the political elites and the government Source: AP/PA Images

Some protesters erected a mock gallows for Lebanon’s top politicians on Martyr’s Square, the epicentre of a protest movement that briefly rattled the country’s hereditary ruling class.

The lack of political change combined with a stinging economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic all but snuffed out the revolutionary movement – until this week.

“Today is the first demonstration since the explosion, an explosion in which any one of us could have died,” said Hayat Nazer, an activist who has contributed to solidarity initiatives for blast victims.

“This is the biggest warning for everyone now that we don’t have anything to lose anymore. Everyone should be in the streets today, everyone,” she told AFP.

However some of Lebanon’s leaders seemed to consider the outpouring of international solidarity as an opportunity to break the government’s diplomatic isolation.

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International investigation

aftermath-of-a-huge-blast-in-beirut-day-3 Source: Abd Rabbo Ammar/ABACA

Earlier today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed calls by Macron for an international investigation into the devastating blast.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit has rejected those calls for an international and independent investigation.

A total of 21 people have been detained so far, including Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanon’s customs authority.

But few Lebanese seemed to have any trust that the leadership would incriminate its own in an investigation chaired by some of the country’s top officials.

© AFP 2020

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