France confirms two of its citizens among dead in Beirut explosion

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Paris entrusted the investigation to the investigating judges into the colossal explosion which killed 171 people, injured thousands and displaced some 300,000 people.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly addresses reporters as she visits the devastated site of the massive explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon. August 14, 2020 (Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters)

France has confirmed that two French citizens were among 171 people killed in the massive explosion at the port of Beirut last week. Paris has intensified its investigation by entrusting it to the investigating judges, according to sources from the prosecution.

The investigation has now been entrusted to two magistrates who can ultimately decide to file a complaint against the August 4 explosion, a source told the Paris prosecutor’s office.

Another source, who asked not to be named, said on Friday that it was now confirmed that two French citizens had been killed in the blast.

The death of a French victim – prominent Lebanese architect Jean-Marc Bonfils – had already been confirmed, but the second victim has not yet been publicly identified.

French prosecutors on August 5 opened an investigation into “unintentional injuries” using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad while French people were among the victims.

French investigators and police have already been on the scene in Beirut for several days to reconstruct the chain of events that led to the explosion.

“Rapid and independent investigation”

UN human rights experts have demanded a swift and independent investigation into the catastrophic explosion in Beirut, citing deep concern over irresponsibility and impunity in Lebanon.

The group also called Thursday for a relatively rare special debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council in September.

United Nations experts do not speak for the United Nations but report their findings.

Lebanese President Aoun has rejected any international investigation into the Beirut port explosion, as demanded by protesters.

“We support calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and independent investigation, based on human rights principles, to examine all allegations, concerns and needs related to the explosion as well as the underlying failings. human rights, ”some 38 UN experts said in a statement. joint statement.

The investigation should have a broad mandate to investigate “any systemic failure of Lebanese authorities and institutions to protect human rights”.

“We are deeply concerned about the level of irresponsibility and impunity surrounding human and environmental devastation on this scale,” they said.

The investigation should protect the privacy of victims and witnesses, and its findings should be made public, experts said.

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Emergency state

The Lebanese parliament on Thursday approved a two-week state of emergency in Beirut, declared after last week’s gigantic port explosion, giving the military greater powers to quell the resurgence of protests.

High-level diplomats intervened to show solidarity and contribute to the massive aid effort underway, but also to influence political developments following an explosion largely blamed on state corruption.

Dozens of protesters shouted as lawmakers arrived in parliament to ratify the emergency measure, but protesters, outnumbered by security forces, failed to block MPs’ cars.

The Lebanese are furious at political leadership that allowed a massive shipment of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a powerful explosive, to languish for years in a port warehouse despite repeated security warnings.

AFP and Reuters found that until the day before the blast, officials had exchanged warnings about the cargo, but did nothing, despite warnings from experts it could lead to major disaster.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned on Monday, but he still heads a transitional administration.

The state of emergency approved by parliament allows the army to close assembly points and ban gatherings deemed threatening to national security.

This move worries the Lebanese anti-government protest movement for 10 months, which had faded amid the coronavirus pandemic and worsening economic difficulties, but had returned to the streets in force since the disaster of August 4. .

READ MORE: Lebanese Assembly ratifies state of emergency as protests continue

Repression of demonstrations

Human Rights Watch said it was “very concerned” that the state of emergency is being used “as a pretext to suppress protests and quell the very legitimate grievances of a large part of the Lebanese population.”

A military official said that the now official state of emergency would place all security forces under the command of the army, which would oversee the “post-explosion phase”.

The official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the issue, stressed that this would not lead to “a crackdown” on civil liberties.

“We support the right to demonstrate peacefully, even during a state of emergency,” he said.

More than a week after the massive explosion, rescuers on Thursday recovered the body of a young man who was driving his car which sank in the port of Beirut, the army said.

The FBI joins the probe

The explosion renewed calls from Lebanon’s international partners for long-awaited political system reforms and to consolidate the deeply indebted economy.

US envoy David Hale, who arrived in Beirut on Thursday for a three-day visit, announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would join the investigation into the explosion.

“The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators, at the invitation of the Lebanese, to help answer questions that I know everyone is asking about the circumstances that led to this explosion,” he said. he told reporters during a visit to a damaged area. near the port.

Calls are increasing in Lebanon for an international and independent investigation, an option that President Michel Aoun has so far ruled out.

French and foreign investigators were already working on the site of the explosion, but their findings were centrally overseen by the highest level of security in the Lebanese state.

READ MORE: United Nations Security Council at odds over Lebanon peacekeeping operation
Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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