A year after Beirut explosion, Lebanese are still pushing for answers3 min read . Updated: 04 Aug 2021, 06:09 PM IST
- Civil-society groups have called for a day of demonstrations against Lebanon’s political elite to mark the anniversary of the blast
Demonstrations against Lebanon’s political elite are set to be held on Wednesday as civil-society groups demand accountability for the deadly explosion in Beirut a year ago, which they blame on their leaders.
An investigation into the port blast on Aug. 4 last year has so far failed to provide answers to who was responsible for one of the biggest nonnuclear explosions in history. The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured some 7,000 and devastated some of the Lebanese capital’s liveliest residential and commercial areas.
Authorities say the blast occurred when a fire at a warehouse ignited a cache of ammonium nitrate, an explosive material that had been stored at the site for more than six years.
Many Lebanese are asking why such an explosive material was allowed to remain for so long near the densely populated city center. They want to know how and why the fire and resulting explosion took place, and for those responsible to be brought to justice.
Activists accuse the ruling class of obstructing the investigation, which has led to more than two dozen arrests but not of any ministers or senior officials, many of whom are protected by immunity that Parliament has refused to lift.
Mada, a secular political group, called for people to gather at one of the neighborhoods devastated by the blast at 3:30 p.m. local time. “Justice for the victims, revenge against the regime," the group said in an Arabic Instagram post.
Paul Naggear, whose 3-year-old daughter was killed in the explosion, urged people to come out and protest against the political establishment. “We all have suffered," he said. “This is a day of solidarity."
Demonstrations are expected to be held throughout the day. A vigil next to the port is planned around the time of the explosion, about 6 p.m. local time.
Anticipating large crowds, police and military units are expected to spread out across areas where protesters often converge—including the capital’s center—to control any riots and potential damage to public and private property, a Lebanese security official said. After the explosion last year, stone-throwing protesters clashed with security forces who fired rubber bullets and tear gas at them.
Many Lebanese blame years of poor governance and corruption by the entire ruling class for the explosion. They expected the disaster would force the leadership to loosen its grip on power and allow for political and economic reform.
But a year later, Lebanon’s situation has only worsened. Political wrangling over government formation has meant Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who resigned in the aftermath of the explosion, remains in caretaker capacity with limited powers.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has spiraled deeper into what the World Bank says is possibly one of the world’s three worst economic crises of the past 150 years. The economic collapse, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, has pushed millions of people into poverty. It resulted in rationing and scarcity of medicines and other goods as the government lacks the funds to pay for imports. Fuel is scarce and power outages have become more frequent.
The crisis also hobbled the country’s medical sector as it has tackled the pandemic. The number of infections has risen again in recent weeks, according to data from the health ministry, after a strict lockdown earlier this year helped contain it.
The political deadlock has held up aid from the international community, led by France and the U.S., which have demanded political reform before providing assistance. Even before the explosion, Lebanon was seeking a multibillion-dollar bailout from foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund as the country’s economy unraveled.
The ruling class, however, has shown little willingness to take steps that would erode the privileges they have accrued since gaining power after the country’s 15-year civil war.
Late last month, political factions nominated billionaire businessman and former Prime Minister Najib Mikati to form the country’s next government, after two previous candidates abandoned their own efforts.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text
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