Beirut explosion: anti-government protests erupt in the city

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Dozens of people protested near parliament in Beirut


Protesters clashed with Lebanese security forces during anti-government protests in Beirut on Thursday.

Officers fired tear gas at dozens of people near parliament.

Protesters were angered by Tuesday’s devastating explosion, which officials said was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in unsafe conditions since 2013.

Many in Lebanon say government negligence led to the explosion, which killed at least 137 people and injured around 5,000 more.

The explosion destroyed entire neighborhoods of the capital, with homes and businesses reduced to rubble. Dozens of people are still missing.

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Reuters

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Officers fired tear gas over the small crowd


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Reuters

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People blamed government negligence, corruption and mismanagement of the explosion


The state-run news agency said 16 people were taken into custody as part of an investigation announced by the government this week.

Since the disaster, two officials have resigned. MP Marwan Hamadeh resigned on Wednesday, while Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan, Tracy Chamoun, resigned on Thursday, saying the disaster showed the need for a change of leadership.

  • How the ship’s deadly cargo ended up in the Port of Beirut

Earlier Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron also visited the city and said Lebanon needed “deep change” from the authorities.

He also called for an international investigation into the disaster.

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Media captionAerial footage shows flattened buildings after explosion in Beirut port area

A city of sirens, empty buildings and empty streets

By Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beirut

This port was Lebanon’s lifeline for the whole world. Something like 80% of the country’s grain has passed through here. The grain elevators, which were built a long time ago, are faltering. Just beyond there I can see a list of heavily ships. I’ve lived in Beirut for five years and it’s almost unrecognizable – it’s a city of sirens, empty buildings, empty streets.

As I look at the Gemmayze district just behind the port, I can’t see a single window. Entire rooftops are gone – I can see friends’ apartments that are just open to the sky now. This whole area, which was really very populated, was abandoned. No one will be back here anytime soon.

What’s really remarkable about walking the streets here is that one in two people seem to have a broom in their hand. There are cleanup crews everywhere, but it’s pretty low-tech: tiny teams of people with pots and brushes to clean up the devastation of an entire city.

What really strikes me is how stupid it was, what criminal negligence it took to leave this highly explosive material right in the heart of this city, a few feet from people, their homes, their businesses. And the authorities here knew – they had been warned that these chemicals were dangerous and that they posed a great risk to Beirut and Lebanon.

What triggered the explosion?

The ammonium nitrate – which is used as a fertilizer and an explosive – had been in a warehouse at the port for six years after being unloaded from a seized ship in 2013.

The head of the port and the head of the customs authority said he wrote to the courts on several occasions to demand that the chemical be exported or sold to ensure the security of the port.

Port general manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV they knew the material was dangerous when a court first ordered it to be stored in the warehouse, “but not to this degree “.

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Media captionRami Ruhayem visited Gemmayze, the residential area closest to the port

The ammonium nitrate arrived on a Moldovan-flagged vessel, the Rhosus, which entered the port of Beirut after suffering technical problems during its voyage from Georgia to Mozambique, according to Shiparrested.com, which deals with legal matters related to navigation.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and soon after abandoned by its owners, prompting several lawsuits. Its cargo was being stored in a port warehouse for security reasons, according to the report.

Learn more about the explosion in Beirut

What are the latest rescue efforts?

A French rescue team working in the town said there was still a good chance of finding survivors two days after the explosion.

An anonymous rescuer told Mr Macron they hoped to find a group of seven or eight people who would be trapped in a “control room” under the rubble.

Earlier media reports that a father of two, Amin Zahid, was rescued from the sea on Thursday morning have been questioned after comments on an Instagram account set up to help families locate the missing suggested that the man withdrawn from the sea was not him. A new account requesting information on Mr. Zahid has been created.

Security forces cordoned off a large area around the site of the explosion.

Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the Lebanese health sector lacked beds and the necessary equipment to treat the injured and treat critically ill patients.

Interactive

See the extent of the damage at the Beirut explosion site

August 5, 2020

The port of Beirut in August 2020 after the explosion

January 25, 2020

Port of Beirut in January 2020

As many as 300,000 people were left homeless as a result of the explosion, Beirut Governor Marwan Aboud said.

He told the BBC: “Beirut needs food, Beirut needs clothes, houses, materials to rebuild the houses. Beirut needs a place for refugees, for its inhabitants ”.

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Reuters

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The explosion destroyed the surroundings


Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said the country should at least partly rely on foreign aid to rebuild itself.

“We don’t swim in dollars,” he told Sky News Arabia.

What is the context?

The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon. Covid-19 infections were on the rise and hospitals were already struggling to cope.

The country is also going through the worst economic crisis since the civil war of 1975-1990, and tensions were already high with street protests against the government. People face daily power cuts, lack of clean water and limited public health care.

Lebanon imports most of its food and large quantities of grain stored in the port have been destroyed, raising fears of widespread food insecurity. The future of the port itself is in doubt.


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