Furious Lebanese vow new protests over deadly mega-blast

The army use teargas and rubber bullets to clear hundreds of protesters from the central Martyr’s Square

BEIRUT • Lebanese protesters enraged by official negligence blamed for Beirut’s enormous and deadly explosion vowed yesterday to rally again after a night of street clashes in which they stormed several ministries.

“Prepare the gallows because our anger doesn’t end in one day,” warned one message circulating on social media in response to Tuesday’s earthquake-strength blast of a huge pile of industrial chemicals.

The calls for renewed protests came as French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris was to oversee United Nations-backed virtual donors conference to raise aid for Lebanon, a country already mired in a painful economic crisis.

In Beirut, the fury on the streets has further shaken the embattled government of Prime Minister (PM) Hassan Diab, which saw its first Cabinet resignation when Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad quit yesterday.

“After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government,” she said, apologising to citizens for having failed them.

The death toll from the explosion of a long-neglected pile of ammonium nitrate stood at 158 people (at press time), with 60 still reported missing, and a staggering 6,000 wounded, many by flying glass as the shockwave tore through the city.

As tensions have again escalated, the army on Saturday used teargas and rubber bullets to clear hundreds of protesters from the central Martyr’s Square, once more the epicentre of Lebanon’s protest movement.

The street violence left 65 people injured, according to the Red Cross, with footage circulating online showing some demonstrators having sustained severe injuries.

In a new tactic, demonstrators temporarily occupied the Foreign Ministry building before being forced out by the army three hours later.

Rescuers, meanwhile, kept digging through the rubble of toppled buildings as hopes slowly faded of finding more survivors from the colossal blast that shook the country and was felt as far away as Cyprus.

The blast, whose mushroom cloud reminded many of an atomic bomb, left a 43m deep crater at Beirut’s port, said a security official citing French experts working in the disaster area.

The explosion was recorded by the American Institute of Geophysics as equivalent in power to a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.

It was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, where a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate, a chemical that can be used as a fertiliser or as an explosive, had languished for years, according to authorities.

Embattled PM Diab said on Saturday he would propose early elections to break the impasse that is plunging Lebanon ever deeper into political and economic crisis.

At least six lawmakers have also quit since the Aug 4 explosion. — AFP