Security forces have fired tear gas and rubber bullets during clashes with stone-throwing demonstrators in Lebanon’s capital, amid mounting fury over the massive explosion that killed nearly 160 people.
- More than 110 people have been injured, with dozens taken to hospital
- A Lebanese policeman was killed in clashes with demonstrators
- Dozens broke into the foreign ministry, where they burned a portrait of the President
More than 10,000 people gathered in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square for demonstrations against the political elite, which quickly turned violent.
According to the Lebanese Red Cross, 110 people have been wounded and dozens taken to hospital during demonstrations.
Early on, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators trying to break through a barrier to get to the parliament building.
Live coverage on local television stations showed several people bloodied.
As clashes began to worsen, a Lebanese policeman was reportedly killed.
‘Resignation or hang’
Dozens of protesters broke into the foreign ministry, where they burned a framed portrait of President Michel Aoun, representative for many of a political class that has ruled Lebanon for decades and which they said was to blame for its deep political and economic crises.
Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for the explosion, which was fuelled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the city’s port for more than six years.
Apparently set off by a fire, it was by far the biggest blast in Lebanon’s troubled history and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage, according to Beirut’s Governor.
It also destroyed 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
Dozens were still missing and around 5,000 people injured.
“Resignation or hang,” read a banner held by protesters, who also planned to hold a symbolic funeral for the dead.
Khodr Ghadir, 23, said the noose was for everyone who has been in power for the past 30 years.
A placard listed the names of the dead, printed over a photo of the blast’s enormous pink mushroom cloud.
“We are here for you,” it read.
PM calls to introduce draft bill proposing early elections
During a televised speech amid the protests, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced he would introduce a draft bill proposing early elections for the crisis-stricken country.
Mr Diab called on all political parties to put their disagreements aside and work together.
He said he was ready to stay in the post for two months to allow for politicians to work together on implementing structural reforms.
The country’s ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, has been blamed for incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to the explosion.
The state, which has been investigating the cause of the explosion, was conspicuously absent from the ravaged streets of Beirut, with almost zero involvement in the clean-up, which has been left to teams of young volunteers with brooms who fanned out to sweep up broken glass and reopen roads.
In a show of anger, the President of the Christian opposition Kataeb Party said its three legislators had decided to resign from Parliament over the disaster.
Sami Gemayel called on every “honourable” member of Parliament to step down and work for the “birth of a new Lebanon.” A senior Kataeb Party official was killed in the blast.
Documents that surfaced after the blast showed that officials had been repeatedly warned for years that the presence of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port posed a grave danger, but no-one acted to remove it.
Officials have been blaming one another, and 19 people have been detained, including the port’s chief, the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor.
At the site of the blast, workers continued searching for dozens of missing people. Bulldozers were also seen removing debris near a cluster of giant grain silos that were heavily damaged but still partly standing.
International aid has been flowing to Lebanon for days, and several field hospitals have been set up around Beirut to help treat the wounded.
The ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilisers and explosives, originated from a cargo ship called MV Rhosus that had been traveling from the country of Georgia to Mozambique in 2013.
It made an unscheduled detour to Beirut as the Russian shipowner was struggling with debts and hoped to earn some extra cash in Lebanon.
Unable to pay port fees and reportedly leaking, the ship was impounded.
In 2014, the material was moved from the ship and placed in a warehouse at the port where it stayed until the explosion.