October 25, 2020

Fire breaks out near Lebanese parliament as protests over blast reignites


Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration against the political elites and the government, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 8, 2020 after the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut.

STR | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Lebanese protesters hurled rocks at security forces blocking a road near parliament on Sunday in a second day of anti-government demonstrations after last week’s devastating explosion in Beirut.

Fire broke out at the entrance to Parliament Square as protesters tried to break into a cordoned-off area, Lebanese TV footage showed.

Tuesday’s blast of ammonium nitrate killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, compounding months of political and economic collapse and prompting angry calls for the government to quit.

Riot police wearing body armor and carrying batons clashed with demonstrators in chaotic scenes in central Beirut on Sunday.

Thousands of demonstrators were converging on Parliament Square and nearby Martyrs’ Square, a Reuters correspondent said.

“We want to destroy and kill the government,” said Nissan Ghrawi, a 19-year-old unemployed demonstrator. “They gave us no jobs or rights.”

The country’s top Christian Maronite cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, said the cabinet should resign as it cannot “change the way it governs”.

“The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough … the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover,” he said in his Sunday sermon.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said she was resigning on Sunday, citing the explosion and the failure of the government to carry out reforms.

Anger boiled over into violent scenes in central Beirut on Saturday. Those protests were the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.

About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament. Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.

One policeman was killed and the Red Cross said more than 170 people were injured in clashes.

Change the government

“The police fired at me. But that won’t stop us from demonstrating until we change the government from top to bottom,” Younis Flayti, 55, a retired army officer, said on Sunday.

Nearby, mechanic Sabir Jamali sat beside a noose attached to a wooden frame in Martyrs’ Square, intended as a symbolic warning to Lebanese leaders to resign or face hanging.

“Every leader who oppresses us should be hanged,” he said, adding he will protest again.

Lawyer Maya Habli surveyed the demolished port.

“People should sleep in the streets and demonstrate against the government until it falls,” she said.

The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.

The government has said it will hold those responsible to account.

A view of damaged site is seen as search and rescue operations continue after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts

Cem Ozdel | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

World powers agreed at an emergency donor conference on Sunday to provide “major resources” to help Beirut recover, pledging not to fail Lebanon’s people.

Some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in making fertilizers and bombs, exploded on Tuesday, hitting a city already reeling from the economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

For many, it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which has since been rebuilt.

“I worked in Kuwait for 15 years in sanitation to save money and build a gift shop in Lebanon and it was destroyed by the explosion,” said Maroun Shehadi.

“Nothing will change until our leaders just leave.”



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