Six killed in violence protesting port explosion investigation in Beirut | Lebanon

Six people were killed and more than a dozen injured in gunfights that broke out during a protest in Beirut last year demanding the cessation of the judicial investigation. Big explosion in the city port.

The deployment of soldiers failed to stop the violence, which took on a sectarian tone. The fighting took place near a civil war-era front line where militias from the Maronite Christian and Shiite Muslim blocs had previously clashed.

The rally was led by members of Amal and Hezbollah, two predominantly Shia political parties, and their leaders – parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Hassan Nasrallah – increasingly opposed an investigation into the explosion, led by a judge. Tarek Bitar. It was not immediately clear how the armed conflict began.

Interior Minister Bassam Mevlevi said snipers opened fire and aimed at people’s heads. All the dead are on one side, he said, that is, the Shiites.

Earlier on Thursday, a court made a second attempt to eliminate Bitar, whose investigation is seen by many Lebanese as a breakout or breaking event for the crippled state, which has made little progress in identifying the culprits behind it. one of the biggest industrial accidents in modern history.

Protest against Tarek Bitar, chief judge of the port explosion investigation, near the Palace of Justice in Beirut.
Protesters are demanding the dismissal of Tarek Bitar, the chief judge of the port explosion investigation near the palace of justice in Beirut. Photo: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

The port of Beirut had become a microcosm of politics. Lebanonruled by fiefdoms and beset by endemic bribery that led to bankruptcy. Stakeholders behind the port gates were loyal to the political masters who have been responsible since the end of the civil war.

catastrophic explosion August 4, 2020 It was caused by up to 2,750 tons of weapons grade ammonium nitrate, which ignited after a fire believed to have been caused by welding works. The fireball destroyed the bulk cargo terminal and most of the adjacent neighborhoods, killing at least 215 people. It has sparked calls for an end to the political impunity that has characterized Lebanon since the signing of the war-ending treaty.

However, in connection with the refusal of ministers summoned for the investigation to appear, others suing Bitar, and even more directly linked to allegations of negligence, requests to investigate all aspects of the blast seem nearly impossible to fulfill. Beyond that, any regional dimension that has long been a source of speculation seems far beyond the judge’s capacity to explore.

On Thursday, supporters of the two Shiite movements gathered near the judicial palace to demand the replacement of Bitar. Protesters were mobilized on Wednesday evening via social media forums and with an impassioned speech by Nasrallah calling for an “honest” judge to replace Bitar.

Similarly, Amal MP Ali Hasan Halil warned of a “political escalation” if Bitar did not step aside. Arrest warrants were issued along with two other ministers.

The prime minister’s new government, Najib Miqati, is under increasing pressure from both sides to either drop the investigation or replace the chief judge. A previous judge was sacked for disagreeing with politicians.

Hezbollah and Amal urged their supporters not to escalate tensions as gunmen infiltrate the area. The Lebanese army was increasing its presence in the afternoon.

“We are so deeply polarized,” said Mazen Khoury, a resident of the nearby Badaro neighborhood. “The most Christians lost their homes and futures from the port explosion. It is suspected that other parties caused it and changed the face of the country. Today’s events reflect this.”

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