Lebanese police fire tear gas in protest of explosion

Debris on the street near the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque after Tuesday’s explosion in the port area of ​​Beirut, Lebanon, August 8, 2020. REUTERS / Hannah McKay

By Michael Georgy

BEIRUT, Aug. 8 (Reuters) – Riot police fired tear gas at protesters trying to break through a barrier to reach the parliament building in Beirut during a government protest against the devastating explosion in the city this week.

About 5,000 people gathered on Saturday at the Plaza de los Mártires, in the city center, some of them throwing stones. Police fired tear gas as some protesters tried to break through the fence that blocked a street leading to Parliament, according to a Reuters journalist.

Protesters shouted slogans like “the people want the regime to fall” and held up signs that said “Go away, they’re all murderers”.

“We want a future with dignity, we don’t want the blood of the victims of the explosion to be useless,” said Rose Sirour, one of the protesters.

Tuesday’s explosion at the port, the largest in Beirut’s history, killed 154 people, injured 5,000 and destroyed part of the city.

The government promised to hold those responsible responsible.

Some residents, struggling to clean up their destroyed homes, complain that a government that many consider corrupt – there were months of protests against their way of dealing with the deep economic crisis before this week’s disaster – disappointed them again. .

“We don’t trust our government,” says student Celine Dibo as she wipes the blood from the walls of her destroyed building. “I would like the United Nations to take over Lebanon.”

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Several people said they were not surprised that French President Emmanuel Macron visited his devastated neighborhoods near the epicenter of the blast this week, while Lebanese leaders did not.

“We are living at ground zero. I hope another country will take over. Our leaders are a bunch of corrupt people, ”says psychologist Maryse Hayek, 48, whose parents saw their home destroyed in the explosion.

The Kataeb Party of Lebanon, a Christian group that opposes the government supported by Hezbollah, an ally of Iran, announced on Saturday the resignation of its three representatives in parliament.

“I invite all the distinguished (parliamentarians) to resign so that the people can decide who will govern them, without anyone imposing anything on them,” said party leader Samy Gemayel, when announcing the measure during the funeral of an important member of the group. who died in the explosion.

Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, promised angry crowds that help to rebuild the city would not fall into “corrupt hands”. The French president will host a donor conference for Lebanon via video call on Sunday, his office said.

The prime minister and the presidency said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in the manufacture of fertilizers and pumps, were stored for six years without security measures in the port’s warehouse.

President Michel Aoun said on Friday that the investigation would determine whether the motive was a bomb or other outside interference. Aoun said the investigation would also weigh whether the explosion was caused by negligence or an accident. Twenty people have been arrested so far, according to the leader.

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“WE CANNOT ALLOW YOU TO RECONSTRUCT IT”

Some residents wonder how they will rebuild their lives.

Destroyed, Bilal Hassan tries to remove the rubble from his home with his bare hands. He is sleeping on a dusty sofa next to broken glass.

When her three injured teenage children ran for their lives, they left bloodstains on the stairs and on the walls.

“There is really nothing we can do. We cannot afford to rebuild this and no one helps us,” he says, next to a large teddy bear that flew with the explosion and next to a damaged photograph that showed it . with your wife.

Bulldozers cut the remains of destroyed houses and long lines of crushed cars under the watchful eyes of the soldiers. Volunteers with shovels also ran through the streets.

Danielle Chemaly says her charity, whose headquarters were destroyed, helped 70 families who were left homeless by the explosion.

“We gave people initial help, but we don’t know what we can do for families in the future. Big projects are needed, ”he says.

Authorities said the explosion may have caused losses of $ 15 billion. It is an account that Lebanon cannot pay after it has already defaulted on a mountain of debt – which exceeds 150% of GDP – while negotiations to obtain a life-saving from the International Monetary Fund remain stalled.

HELP FROM FOREIGNERS

France and other countries have sent emergency aid to Lebanon, including doctors and tons of medical equipment and food. The blast destroyed Lebanon’s only large grain silo and UN agencies are helping to provide emergency food and medical aid.

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Speaking to the press after a meeting with Aoun, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday that he would try to mobilize Arab efforts to support Lebanon. Also in statements made after the meeting with Aoun, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that his country is ready to help rebuild the port.

For ordinary Lebanese, the scale of the destruction is impressive.

“It looked like a miniature atomic bomb,” says George Rohana, sitting next to a demolished supermarket.

Some onions were left in the rubble of the explosion that opened a huge hole in the wall that separates the store from an adjacent apartment.

“Now we have a situation where people are stealing metals and other items of destruction,” said Rohana. “Someone went out with a broken toaster the other day.”

Marita Abou Jawda distributes bread and cheese to the victims of the explosion.

“Macron offered to help and our government did nothing. It has always been that way, ”he says. “After Macron’s visit, I played the French national anthem all day in my car.”

(additional information by Maher Chmaytelli, Laila Bassam, Ezgi Erkoyun and Richard Lough; edited by Frances Kerry; translated by Tomás Cobos)

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