Anti-government protests erupt in Beirut after deadly explosion kills 145

7 August 2020, 10:36

Tempers have flared in Beirut since the disaster
Tempers have flared in Beirut since the disaster. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Protesters have clashed with Lebanese security forces in Beirut amid mounting anger at the city’s devastating explosion. 

Police and army soldiers fired tear gas at anti-government activists outside parliament on Thursday night accusing officials of corruption and negligence, state media reported. 

Shock and anguish has quickly shifted to anger in the Lebanese capital, where at least 145 people died and more than 5,000 were injured. President Miche Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of discarded ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser, went up in flames. 

The blast destroyed numerous districts in the city, which was already at breaking point from the twin crises of coronaivrus and economic collapse. 

Lebanese security forces have clashed with protesters
Lebanese security forces have clashed with protesters. Picture: PA
Anger has erupted since the deadly blast
Anger has erupted since the deadly blast. Picture: PA

Homes and businesses have been decimated and dozens of people are still missing. 

The Lebanese government has given an “Investigative committee” four days to determine the cause of the blast, and how the ammonium nitrate came to be stored in a port warehouse for six years. 

Authorities have arrested 16 people during the probe so far including the port general manager,  according to the state-run National News Agency, which reported 18 have been questioned. 

Since the disaster two officials have resigned. MP Marwan Hamadeh stepped down on Wednesday, while Lebanon's ambassador to Jordan Tracy Chamoun resigned on Thursday, calling for a change in leadership following the disaster.

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Tempers further flared in the city as Lebanon's customs chief said the cabinet was previously warned by a security agency that the stockpile of chemicals, confiscated from an impounded Russian cargo ship in 2013, was dangerous.

It came as locals used French president Emmanuel Macron's visit on Thursday to demand political reform. Crowds gathered around him and shouted “revolution” and “the people want to bring down the regime”. 

Protesters and police clashed in Beirut
Protesters and police clashed in Beirut. Picture: PA

Mr Macron announced France will organise a conference in the next few days with European, American, Middle Eastern and other donors to secure food, medicine, housing and other urgent aid, and promised locals it would not go into corruption. Several countries have already sent aid. 

Corruption was already rife in the Lebanese government, hampering efforts to tackle coronavirus and prompting previous protests.