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Lebanon faces another crisis: After Beirut blast, now protesters take over Foreign Ministry, storm banks

12:30 AM Aug 09, 2020 | FPJ Web Desk

Security forces fired tear gas and clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators Saturday in Beirut, and a group of protesters stormed the foreign ministry amid mounting fury over this week's explosion that devastated much of the city and killed nearly 160 people. Dozens were still missing and nearly 6,000 people injured.

Beirut: Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against the political elites and the government after this weeks deadly explosion at Beirut port which devastated large parts of the capital in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020

Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses at Beirut's Martyrs' Square to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for Tuesday's blast.

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The explosion was fueled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the city's port for more than six years. Apparently set off by a fire, the blast was by far the biggest in Lebanon's troubled history and caused an estimated $10 billion to 15 billion in damage, according to Beirut's governor. It also damaged 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

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The disaster has taken popular anger to a new level in a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and near bankruptcy.

"Resignation or hang," read a banner held by protesters, who also planned to hold a symbolic funeral for the dead. Some nooses were also set up along the bridges outside the Port.

Khodr Ghadir, 23, said the noose was for everyone who has been in power for the last 30 years. "What happened was a spark for people to return to the streets." A placard listed the names of the dead, printed over a photo of the blast's enormous pink mushroom cloud. "We are here for you," it read.

In a televised speech Saturday evening, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the only solution was to hold early elections, which he planned to propose in a draft bill.

He called on all political parties to put aside their disagreements and said he was prepared to stay in the post for two months to allow time for politicians to work on structural reforms.

The offer is unlikely to soothe the escalating fury on the street.

In central Beirut, some protesters threw stones at security forces who responded with heavy tear gas. Near parliament, protesters tried to jump over barriers that closed the road leading to the legislature.

The protesters later set on fire a truck that was fortifying barriers on a road leading to parliament.

Unscheduled dock led to Beirut blast

At least 142 people were hurt in the clashes, and 32 of them needed to be taken to the hospital, according to the Red Cross. Several protesters were seen being carried away with blood running down their faces. At one point, gunfire could be heard, but its source was not immediately clear.

In the capital's hard-hit Achrafieh district, a group of protesters, including retired army officers, stormed the building of the foreign ministry, vowing to make it the headquarters for the "revolution." Retired army officer Sami Ramah read a statement on the steps of the ministry.

"This authority must step down," Ramah said. Some protesters entered the building and burned a few documents.

A mobile phone video showed a group of protesters also entering the empty building of the economy ministry. After nightfall, the protesters were still at the foreign ministry and vowed to enter the justice ministry The gathering at Martyrs' Square and outside the parliament building and government headquarters came amid popular anger against Lebanon's political leadership.

Beirut: Officials ignored warnings of ‘extreme danger’ over 10 times

The country's ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, is blamed for incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to Tuesday's explosion.

"The current leaders' bloodline needs to end. We want the death of the old Lebanon and the birth of a new one," said Tarek, a 23-year-old university student who had prepared a mix of water and paint in a bottle to throw at the police. No peaceful protest would bring about change, he said.

The state, which is investigating the cause of the explosion, has been conspicuously absent from the ravaged streets of Beirut, with almost zero involvement in the cleanup, which has been left to teams of young volunteers with brooms who fanned out to sweep up broken glass and reopen roads.

Beirut explosion: What is ammonium nitrate? How does it cause an explosion?

The protest came as senior officials from the Middle East and Europe arrived in a show of solidarity with the tiny country that is still in shock.

In a show of anger, the president of the Christian opposition Kataeb party said its three legislators have decided to resign from Parliament over the disaster.

Sami Gemayel called on every "honorable" member of parliament to step down and work for the "birth of a new Lebanon." A senior Kataeb party official was killed in the blast. Also killed were 43 Syrians, the country's embassy in Beirut said. Lebanon is home to some 1 million Syrian refugees.

Beirut Explosion: Viral video of a bride running for her life will break your heart

The Dutch foreign ministry said Saturday that Hedwig Waltmans-Molier, the wife of the Netherlands' ambassador to Lebanon, had also died from injuries suffered in the explosion.

Documents that surfaced after the blast showed that officials had been repeatedly warned for years that the presence of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port posed a grave danger, but no one acted to remove it. Officials have been blaming one another, and 19 people have been detained, including the port's chief, the head of Lebanon's customs department and his predecessor.

"We will support Lebanon through all available means," Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general of the 22-member Arab League told reporters after meeting President Michel Aoun on Saturday morning.

Beirut Blast Update: Death toll crosses 150; Trump, Macron offer helping hand

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