Riot police fired tear gas and scuffled with protesters – mostly relatives of victims of the Beirut port explosion last year – outside the home of Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, Mohamed Fehmi.
The demonstrators on Tuesday demanded an end to what they call the obstruction of an investigation into one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. They carried empty coffins and then tossed them into the yard of the building, pushing their way through security guards to hold a symbolic burial ceremony.
The August 4, 2020 explosion at the port devastated the capital, killed more than 200 people and wounded thousands. Hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilisers that had been improperly stored in the port for years ignited, causing the explosion. Many blame officials for keeping the explosive material stored at the port.
“He killed us another time,” said Tracy Naggear, whose three-year-old daughter was one of the youngest victims of the blast. She was referring to Fehmi’s decision to reject a request by the judge investigating the explosion to question one of Lebanon’s most senior generals, the head of General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim.
Investigating Judge Tarek Bitar said earlier this month he intends to pursue senior politicians and former and current security chiefs in the case, and requested their immunity be lifted so he can prosecute them.
Families of the victims and survivors praised the judge’s move as a bold step. His predecessor leading the probe was removed after he accused two former ministers of negligence that led to the explosion.
Naggear said the symbolic burial outside Fehmi’s building was held at the scene of the “second crime” against the families seeking justice.
The gathering turned rowdy when dozens of protesters stormed Fehmi’s building, breaking down two metal gates, and scuffled with riot police who beat them with clubs. Police fired tear gas to push back against the protesters. The push set off pitched street battles with stone-throwing protesters. Many were injured and treated on the scene.
The protesters sprayed the word “killer” in red at the entrance of Fehmi’s building as men pelted the building with tomatoes.
“Mohamed Fehmi, we will not leave you alone. Lift the immunity,” said Ibrahim Hoteit, whose brother Tharwat, was killed in the blast.