Anti-government protest erupted in Beirut on Thursday as rage over the country’s leadership grew following a massive explosion that laid waste large parts of the Lebanese capital last Tuesday.
Security forces fired teargas as they confronted dozens of anti-government protesters in central Beirut. Some in the small protest were wounded, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.
Protesters had gathered near parliament, where a small fire was lit and stones were thrown at security forces, according to NNA.
Shock has turned to anger in the city where 154 people died and more than 5,000 were injured when a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years in a port warehouse ignited.
Volunteers continued arriving from across Lebanon to clear dust and debris from the neighbourhoods surrounding the blast site. Some people returned to their shattered homes and shops for the first time since the explosion.
Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun said on Friday an investigation would examine whether “external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act” played a role in the blast. He has previously blamed negligence in the storage of highly explosive material for years at the port.
On Thursday Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan announced her resignation, saying “total negligence” by the country’s authorities signalled the need for a leadership change.
In a televised statement Tracy Chamoun said she could no longer tolerate the government’s ineptitude.
“I am announcing my resignation as an ambassador … in protest against state negligence, theft and lying,” said Chamoun. “This disaster rang a bell: we should not show any of them mercy and they all must go,” she added. “This is total negligence.”
It is the second resignation by a Lebanese official since the explosion. A lawmaker, Marwan Hamadeh, resigned on Wednesday over the blast, which authorities said was triggered by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
Compounding the country’s woes, Lebanon recorded 255 coronavirus cases on Thursday – its highest single-day infection tally – after the explosion upended a planned lockdown and sent thousands streaming into overflowing hospitals.
The death toll rose to 154 on Friday, and was expected to further increase as rescue workers kept digging through the rubble.
Even as they counted their dead, many Lebanese were consumed with anger over the blast. “We can’t bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go,” said 30-year-old Mohammad Suyur.
The small demonstration on Thursday night, as well as a flood of angry social media posts, suggested the disaster could reignite a cross-sectarian protest movement that erupted in October but faded because of the grinding economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.
Aoun and the Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, have promised to put those responsible for the disaster behind bars. A military prosecutor announced 16 port staff had been detained.
The small Mediterranean nation is currently gripped by its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 war, further fuelling anti-government sentiments.
Many have raised questions as to how a huge cargo of highly explosive ammonium nitrate could have been left unsecured in the capital for years.
On Thursday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, toured the city’s devastated port and surrounding suburbs, as hundreds of people in one neighbourhood called for revolution and the downfall of the government.
The International Monetary Fund, whose talks with Lebanon started in May but have since stalled, warned it was “essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms”.
The IMF urged Lebanon – which is seeking more than US$20bn (£15bn) in external funding and now faces billions more in disaster costs – “to put in place a meaningful programme to turn around the economy”. (Source: The Guardian)