3 décembre 2021

Protesters clash with security forces in Lebanon over deadly blast

The explosion was fueled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been inappropriately stored in the city’s port for more than six years. Seemingly started by a fire, it was by far the biggest bombing in troubled history in Lebanon and caused between $ 10 billion and $ 15 billion in damage, according to the governor of Beirut. It also destroyed 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

Security forces fired tear gas and clashed in the Lebanese capital with protesters throwing stones on Saturday, as fury mounts over the massive explosion that devastated much of the city and killed nearly 160 people. Dozens of people were still missing and around 5,000 injured.

Activists who called for the protest have set up a symbolic noose in Beirut’s Martyrs Square to hang politicians they accuse of corruption and neglect for Tuesday’s explosion.

The state, which is investigating the cause of the explosion, has been remarkably absent from the ravaged streets of Beirut, with almost zero participation in the cleanup, left to teams of young volunteers with brooms who passed out to sweep glass broken and reopen the roads.

The protest came as senior officials from the Middle East and Europe arrived in a demonstration of solidarity with the tiny country still in shock.

In anger, the chairman of the Christian opposition party Kataeb said his three lawmakers decided to resign from parliament over the disaster. Sami Gemayel called on all “honorable” MPs to step aside and work for the “birth of a new Lebanon.”

The rally in Martyrs Square and outside the parliament building and the seat of government took place amid popular anger against the Lebanese political leadership. The country’s ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, are accused of incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to Tuesday’s explosion.

The staggering devastation came on top of an economic and financial crisis which led to the collapse of the Lebanese currency against the dollar, hyperinflation and the explosion of poverty and unemployment.

At least 142 people were injured in the clashes, and 32 of them had to be taken to hospital, according to the Red Cross. Several protesters were seen taken away with blood streaming down their faces. At one point, gunshots could be heard, but its source was not immediately clear.

In the district of Ashrafieh, very affected by the capital, a group of demonstrators, including retired army officers, stormed the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, vowing to make the headquarters of the “revolution”.

Retired army officer Sami Ramah read a statement on the steps of the ministry. “This authority must resign,” Ramah said. Protesters entered the building and burned some documents.

Video on a cell phone shows a group of protesters also entering the empty building of the Ministry of the Economy. After dark, the protesters were still at the Foreign Ministry and vowed to enter the Justice Ministry.

International aid has been circulating in Lebanon for days, and several field hospitals have been set up around Beirut to help treat the wounded.

President Donald Trump said on Friday he spoke by phone with Aoun and French President Emmanuel Macron, who paid a brief visit to Lebanon on Thursday. Trump noted that medical supplies, food and water were coming from the United States, along with emergency responders, technicians, doctors and nurses.

Ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizers and explosives, came from a cargo ship called MV Rhosus which had traveled from the country of Georgia to Mozambique in 2013. It made an unscheduled detour to Beirut, while the Russian shipowner struggled with debts and hoped to earn extra money in Lebanon. Unable to pay port dues and apparently fleeing, the ship was arrested.

In 2014, the material was moved from the ship and placed in a warehouse at the port where it remained until the explosion.

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