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Lebanese protesters storm ministry buildings as anger over Beirut blast grows

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Lebanese protesters storm ministry buildings as anger over Beirut blast grows

By Michael Georgy

 

2020-08-08T133643Z_1_LYNXNPEG770EJ_RTROPTP_4_LEBANON-SECURITY-BLAST-PROTESTS.JPG

Demonstrators gather as tear gas is fired by security forces during a protest near the parliament following Tuesday's blast, in Beirut, Lebanon August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

 

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese protesters stormed government ministries in Beirut and trashed the offices of the Association of Lebanese Banks on Saturday as shots rang out in increasingly angry demonstrations over this week's devastating explosion.

 

The protesters said their politicians should resign and be punished for negligence they say led to Tuesday’s blast, the biggest ever to hit Beirut, that killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, compounding months of political and economic meltdown.

 

A policeman was killed during the clashes, a spokesman said. A policeman at the scene said the officer died when he fell into an elevator shaft in a nearby building after being chased by protesters.

 

The Red Cross said it had treated 117 people for injuries on the scene while another 55 were taken to hospital.

 

Policemen wounded by stones were treated by ambulance workers. A fire broke out in central Martyrs' Square.

 

Dozens of protesters broke into the foreign ministry where they burnt a portrait of President Michel Aoun, representative for many of a political class that has ruled Lebanon for decades and that they say is to blame for its current mess.

 

"We are staying here. We call on the Lebanese people to occupy all the ministries," a demonstrator said by megaphone.

 

About 10,000 people gathered in Martyrs' Square, some throwing stones. Police fired tear gas when some protesters tried to break through the barrier blocking a street leading to parliament, a Reuters journalist said.

 

Police confirmed shots and rubber bullets had been fired. It was not immediately clear who fired the shots. Riot police shot dozens of teargas canisters at protesters, who hit back with firecrackers and stones.

 

TV footage showed protesters also breaking into the energy and economy ministries.

 

They chanted "the people want the fall of the regime", reprising a popular chant from the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. They held posters saying "Leave, you are all killers".

 

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut said the U.S. government supported the demonstrators' right to peaceful protest and urged all involved to refrain from violence.

 

The embassy also said in a tweet that the Lebanese people "deserved leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability".

 

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the only way out was early parliamentary elections.

 

'GO HOME!'

 

The protests were the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets in protest against corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.

 

“You have no conscience, you have no morality. Go home! Leave! Resign, Enough is enough,” shouted one of the protesters. “What else do you want? You brought us poverty, death and destruction,” said another.

 

Soldiers in vehicles mounted with machine guns patrolled the area. Ambulances rushed to the scene.

 

"Really the army is here? Are you here to shoot us? Join us and we can fight the government together," a woman yelled.

 

Tuesday's blast was the biggest in Beirut's history. Twenty-one people were still reported as missing from the explosion, which gutted entire neighbourhoods.

 

The government has promised to hold those responsible to account. But few Lebanese are convinced. Some set up nooses on wooden frames as a symbolic warning to Lebanese leaders.

 

"Resign or hang," said one banner at the demonstration.

 

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

 

ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

 

The explosion hit a city still scarred by civil war and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections.

 

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 had since been rebuilt.

 

Some residents, struggling to clean up shattered homes, complain the government has let them down again.

 

"We have no trust in our government," said university student Celine Dibo as she scrubbed blood off the walls of her shattered apartment building. "I wish the United Nations would take over Lebanon."

 

Many people denounced their leaders, saying none of them visited the site of the blast to comfort them or assess the damage while French President Emmanuel Macron flew from Paris and went straight to the scene to pay his tribute.

 

Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, promised aid to rebuild the city would not fall into "corrupt hands". He will host a donor conference for Lebanon via video link on Sunday, his office said. U.S. President Donald Trump said that he will join.

 

"We don't want any government to help us," said unemployed protester Mahmoud Rifai. "The money will just go into the pockets of our leaders."

 

Aoun said on Friday an investigation would examine whether the blast was caused by a bomb or other external interference. He said the investigation would also weigh if it was due to negligence or an accident. Twenty people had been detained so far, he added.

   

'WE CAN'T AFFORD TO REBUILD'

 

Officials have said the blast could have caused losses amounting to $15 billion. That is a bill that Lebanon cannot pay after already defaulting on a mountain of debt - exceeding 150% of economic output - and with talks stalled on an IMF lifeline.

 

For ordinary Lebanese, the scale of destruction is overwhelming. Marita Abou Jawda was handing out bread and cheese to victims of the blast.

 

"Macron offered to help and our government has not done anything. It has always been like that," she said. "After Macron visited I played the French national anthem all day in my car."

 

(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Laila Bassam, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Ezgi Erkoyun, Ellen Francis and Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie)

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2020-08-09
 

 

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 So many factions in that country you don't know what motives are when it comes to protesting.

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"protesters" and "storm" don't seem to gel

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the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a port in Beirut, in a disaster that raises suspicions of gross negligence. The captain of the Russian ship that brought the material in September 2013 says that a stop in Beirut was not on the agenda at all, until the owner demanded to load more goods: "He was greedy." After a confrontation with the authorities, Lebanon removed the dangerous chemical from the ship and stored it until it exploded: "She did not care about the substance

Lebanon seven years ago, in an old Russian-owned cargo ship. The captain of the ship said she should not have moored in Beirut at all. "He was greedy," said Boris Prokoshov, who was captain of the 2013 Rossus ship on its owner. The owner demanded that he come to Beirut, for an unplanned stop, to add goods to the ship.

Prokosh said the ship carried 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly flammable chemical, on its voyage from Georgia to Mozambique. In the middle of the road, the owner demanded a stop in Beirut to take materials for the construction of roads in the city - and bring them to the port in Aqaba, Jordan. The ship was then scheduled to continue on its planned route and reach Mozambique in Africa, to deliver the ammonium nitrate to an explosives maker.

n retrospect, it turned out that Beirut was the last stop of the ship. Her crew tried unsuccessfully to add goods to the cargo ship, before getting into a protracted dispute with the authorities over the docking fee at the port. 

 

The captain, and lawyers acting on behalf of several creditors, accuse the shipowners of abandoning it and wanting it to be delayed. A few months after docking at the port, for safety reasons, the ammonium nitrate was transferred from the ship to a warehouse at the port. The day before yesterday a fire that broke out in the port spread to a warehouse where the dangerous substance was. The explosion was tremendous, and the results fatal. The huge disaster killed at least 158 people, injured 6,000 and left more than a quarter of a million people homeless...

www.ynet.co.il

 
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1 hour ago, ezzra said:

quarter of a million people homeless...

That's one impressive statistic, and Bournemouth (UK) thinks it has a problem. Not trying to sound heartless or be snide, but it certainly puts things in perspective.

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Like throwing stones is changing the situation in any way, shape or form! 

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7 hours ago, Bender Rodriguez said:

time for another wave of illegal immigrants to europe ?

All those doctors and engineers.  I can't wait.

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52 minutes ago, pacovl46 said:

Like throwing stones is changing the situation in any way, shape or form! 

Over time, it might. Northern Ireland is a good example. 🙂

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6 hours ago, thequietman said:

Over time, it might. Northern Ireland is a good example. 🙂

Hasn't it been relatively peaceful sine the IDF got their butts kicked out?

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11 hours ago, thequietman said:

Over time, it might. Northern Ireland is a good example. 🙂

I guess you missed my point. Throwing stones does not improve the situation they’re in right  now whatsoever! They’d be much better off cleaning up the city! 

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Back in the early 70's before the civil war started 1975 Beirut was a great place could walk along the promenade go eat in some nice Lebanese restaurant watch the belly dancers the world was a much better place to live in then.

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