Beirut, Lebanon, Beirut Explosions

Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut explosion: Lebanese riot police fire tear gas at protesters

BEIRUT: Riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators trying to break through a barrier to get to the parliament building in Beirut on Saturday (Aug ...

8/8/2020 6:37:00 PM

Riot police fire tear gas at demonstrators in Beirut during protests against the government, after explosions earlier this week left more than 150 dead and thousands injured (Photos: AFP)

BEIRUT: Riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators trying to break through a barrier to get to the parliament building in Beirut on Saturday (Aug ...

BookmarkBEIRUT: Riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators trying to break through a barrier to get to the parliament building in Beirut on Saturday (Aug 8) during a protest over the government's handling of this week's devastating explosion in the city.

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About 7,000 people gathered in Martyrs' Square in the city centre, some throwing stones.AdvertisementAdvertisementPolice fired tear gas when some protesters tried to break through the barrier blocking a street leading to parliament, a Reuters journalist said.

Ambulances rushed to the scene. One teenager fainted after being overcome by tear gas.The protesters chanted"the people want the fall of the regime," and held posters saying"Leave, you are all killers".Soldiers in vehicles mounted with machine guns patrolled the area amid the clashes.

AdvertisementAdvertisement"Really the army is here? Are you here to shoot us? Join us and we can fight the government together," a woman yelled."We want a future with dignity, we don’t want the blood of the victims of the explosion wasted," said Rose Sirour, one of the demonstrators.

Tuesday's blast in the port, the biggest explosion in Beirut's history, killed 158 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed a swathe of the city. The blast was triggered by a fire which ignited a stock of ammonium nitrate.The government has promised to hold those responsible to account. But few Lebanese are convinced. Some set up nooses on wooden frames as a warning to Lebanese leaders.

"Resign or hang," said a placard.Riot police fired dozens of tear gas canisters at protesters who set a fire and hurled stones.An aerial view taken on Augt 7, 2020, shows a partial view of the port of Beirut and the crater caused by the colossal explosion three days earlier. (Photo: AFP)

Some residents, struggling to clean up shattered homes, complain the government they see as corrupt - there had been months of protests against its handling of a deep economic crisis before this week's disaster - 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."

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Several people said they were not at all surprised that French President Emmanuel Macron had visited their gutted neighbourhoods this week while Lebanese leaders had not.Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, promised angry crowds that aid to rebuild the city would not fall into"corrupt hands".

"We are living in ground zero. I hope another country would just take us over. Our leaders are a bunch of corrupt people," said psychologist Maryse Hayek, 48, whose parents' house was destroyed in the explosion.READ: Covering the Beirut explosions, bruised and bloodied

Spectacular videos of the disaster show a mushroom-shaped shockwave that drew comparisons with the 1945 atomic bombs on Japan while foreign rescue teams compared the devastation with earthquake scenes.Saturday could be the last day anybody buried under rubble has any chance of being found alive and according to the health ministry, 21 people are still missing.

Debris is seen on the street near Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque following the Aug 4, 2020 blast in Beirut's port area. (Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay)Among the fatalities was the wife of the Dutch ambassador to Lebanon, who died on Saturday after being seriously injured.

Hedwig Waltmans-Molier, 55, was injured by the explosion as she stood next to her husband, ambassador Jan Waltmans, in the living room of their house in Beirut. Tuesday's blast caused extensive damage to the Dutch embassy, injuring four other people connected to it.

Solidarity for the victims of the blast, from inside and outside Lebanon, has been impressive but this disaster was man-made and residents want heads to roll."PUNISH THEM"The president and prime minister of Lebanon have promised that a government investigation would net the culprits but, more than a mere case of negligence, many Lebanese see the blast as a direct result of their leaders' corruption.

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"After three days of cleaning, removing rubble and licking our wounds ... it is time to let our anger explode and punish them," said Fares Halabi, a 28-year-old activist.READ: 'Possibility of external interference': Lebanon's president expands Beirut blast probe

Volunteers clean debris from the street following in Beirut's port area, Lebanon, Aug 7, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher)The lack of political change combined with a stinging economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic all but snuffed out the revolutionary movement - until this week.

"Today is the first demonstration since the explosion, an explosion in which any one of us could have died," said Hayat Nazer, an activist who has contributed to solidarity initiatives for blast victims."This is the biggest warning for everyone now that we don't have anything to lose anymore. Everyone should be in the streets today, everyone," she told AFP.

However some of Lebanon's leaders seemed to consider the outpouring of international solidarity as an opportunity to break the government's diplomatic isolation.FOREIGN SUPPORTA virtual international donor conference launched by Macron, and in which US President Donald Trump and other top leaders will take part, is scheduled for Sunday.

Lebanon defaulted on its debt earlier this year and the current leadership has so far consistently failed to address the economic emergency and agree on an international rescue package despite intense Western pressure.Speaking on Friday evening, President Michel Aoun said"the explosion has led to the lifting of the isolation."

READ: Lebanese bride happy to be alive after Beirut explosion cuts short wedding videoHezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also said the disaster had created"an opportunity" to get the world to work with Lebanon again.Three senior diplomats were in Beirut Saturday in a show of solidarity with the disaster-hit city, where 300,000 people were made temporarily homeless by the port explosion.

People walk near a damaged building following in Beirut's port area, Lebanon, Aug 7, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher)The first to meet top officials was Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was also expected, as was the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.

Turkey also said it is ready to help rebuild the port of Beirut. Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said the country's port of Mersin, on the Mediterranean, is ready to assist.HIGH-STAKES PROBEAoun however rejected calls backed by Macron for an international and independent investigation into the blast.

A total of 21 people have been detained so far, including Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanon's customs authority.Christian MP Samy Gemayel announced Saturday during a funeral service for his Kataeb party's secretary general, who was killed in the explosion, that he and his two colleagues in parliament were resigning.

That brought to five the number of lawmakers who quit since the blast.READ: Race to find survivors at Beirut's 'ground zero' after explosionsFew Lebanese seemed to have any trust that the leadership would incriminate its own in an investigation chaired by some of the country's top officials.

Analyst Nasser Yassin of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said Lebanon's reviled leaders were clearly seeking to take advantage of the situation."The fear is that the authorities will benefit from this great disaster and from the international and Arab attention they are getting," he said.

A machine cleans debris at a damaged site in Beirut's port area, Lebanon, Aug 7, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher)Activist Hayat Nazer said the current crisis should not turn into a chance for the political elite to get a new lease of life but instead give fresh impetus to a drive for change.

"I think it's the last wake-up call for people," she said."We need to save each other, we need to clean our country, to rebuild it, and to completely disregard that we have politicians," Nazer said."It's not just about protesting in the streets. We can make a change on a daily basis, the revolution is part of our lives, we can apply it every day."

Read more: CNA »

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