Lebanese riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators trying to break through a barrier to get to the parliament building in Beirut during a protest over the government’s handling of this week’s devastating explosion in the city.
About 7,000 people gathered in Martyrs’ Square in the city centre, some throwing stones. Police fired tear gas when some protesters tried to break through the barrier blocking a street leading to parliament, a Reuters journalist said.
Ambulances rushed to the scene. One teenager fainted after being overcome by tear gas.
The protesters chanted “the people want the fall of the regime”, a popular chant during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. “Revolution. Revolution.” They held posters saying “Leave, you are all killers”.
Soldiers in vehicles mounted with machine guns patrolled the area amid the clashes.
“Really the army is here? Are you here to shoot us? Join us and we can fight the government together,” a woman yelled.
Tuesday’s blast, the biggest in Beirut’s history, killed 158 people and wounded 6,000, the health ministry said. Twenty-one people were still reported as missing from the explosion which destroyed a large swathe of the city.
The government has promised to hold those responsible to account. But few Lebanese are convinced. Some set up nooses on wooden frames as a warning to Lebanese leaders.
Resign or hang,” said a placard.
Riot police fired dozens of tear gas canisters at protesters who set a fire and hurled stones.
Some residents, struggling to clean up shattered homes, complain the government they see as corrupt – there had been months of protests against its handling of a deep economic crisis before this week’s disaster – has let them down again.
“We have no trust in our government,” said university student Celine Dibo as she scrubbed blood off the walls of her shattered apartment building. “I wish the United Nations would take over Lebanon.”
Several people said they were not surprised that French President Emmanuel Macron had visited this week while Lebanese leaders had not.
“We are living in ground zero. I hope another country would just take us over,” said psychologist Maryse Hayek, 48, whose parents’ house was destroyed in the explosion.
Lebanon’s Kataeb Party, a Christian group that opposes the government backed by the Iran-aligned Hezbollah, announced on Saturday the resignation of its three lawmakers from parliament.
“I invite all honourable (lawmakers) to resign so that the people can decide who will govern them, without anybody imposing anything to them,” said party chief Samy Gemayel, announcing the move during the funeral of a leading member of the group who died in the explosion.
Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, promised angry crowds that aid to rebuild the city would not fall into “corrupt hands”. He will host a donor conference for Lebanon via video-link on Sunday, his office said. U.S. President Donald Trump said that he will join.
The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.
President Michel Aoun said yesterday that an investigation would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference.
Aoun said the investigation would also weigh if the blast was due to negligence or an accident. Twenty people had been detained so far, he added.