Lebanese riot police clash with families of Beirut blast victims

Angry protesters surrounded the interior minister’s residence in Beirut as explosion investigation continues to stall.

Several demonstrators were injured in clashes on Tuesday [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Beirut, Lebanon – Riot police beat and tear-gassed protesting families of the Beirut blast victims outside the Lebanese interior minister’s Beirut residence on Tuesday.

The demonstrators held placards of their lost family members, and challenged caretaker Interior Minister Mohamad Fahmy for rejecting a legal request to interrogate General Security Chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.

Riot police surrounded the building as the protesters tried to break in. Some climbed over its exterior walls, sprayed graffiti on the building, and placed empty coffins by its entrance. Security forces and plain-clothed officers beat some of the demonstrators with batons who tried to break through.

“The criminals are not being held accountable, and the judiciary wants them summoned,” lawyer and activist Wasif Harake told Al Jazeera. “If they are not summoned, then the people will take matters into their own hands and hold them accountable themselves.”

Protesters threw tomatoes, water bottles, and rocks as clashes intensified. Security forces fired tear gas to clear the area.

Earlier, demonstrators gathered near parliament demanding that legislators lift the immunity of three legislators and former ministers so they can be interrogated over the enormous blast at Beirut Port that killed 211 people.

The crowd was able to break down two metal gates leading to the building [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Lift immunity

The investigation over a devastating explosion 11 months ago continues to stall.

On July 2, investigating Judge Tarek Bitar announced legal procedures against a handful of politicians and high-ranking security officials, including Major-General Ibrahim.

Bitar asked the interior ministry for permission to question Ibrahim and head of State Security Major-General Tony Saliba. However, Fahmy rejected Bitar’s request last week.

Bitar also requested parliament to lift immunity off ex-finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former public works minister Ghazi Zaiter, and ex-interior minister Nohad Machnouk. Parliamentarians continue to stall on that decision.

The deadly Beirut Port explosion last August 4 also wounded more than 6,500 people, after hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser exploded in a dockside warehouse.

In February, a Lebanese court removed Bitar’s predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, after he charged three former ministers and outgoing Prime Minister Hasan Diab with negligence.

More than a dozen women dressed in black snuck in carrying posters of their loved ones who died in the blast [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera