Riot police in Lebanon have fired tear gas at families of people who died in last year’s Beirut port blast.
Victims’ relatives had gathered outside Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi’s home on Tuesday to protest his decision to exclude high-level security officials from an investigation into the August 2020 explosion, which killed 211 people and injured 6,000 more.
Fahmi, the caretaker interior minister, has been accused of stalling an investigation led by the head of Beirut’s criminal court, Tarek Bitar.
Bitar had wanted to question high-level officials including three former ministers, and the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Bureau, but Fahmi said no, and MPs have asked for more evidence before lifting the former officials’ immunity.
Amid growing anger at the decision, protesters staged a symbolic funeral at Fahmi’s doorstep, and threw empty coffins into the garden outside his apartment building. Riot police surrounding a fence clashed with protesters who they said tried to break into the property. Lebanese security forces reported more than 20 injuries among their ranks after the clashes. Dozens of demonstrators were injured.
Lebanon's economy has crumbled in past decades and is now stuck in one of its biggest crises: its currency has lost 90 percent of its value in the past year, while huge political disagreements exist among the power-sharing factions formed by Sunni, Shiite, and Christians.
The ruling class has failed to slow down the country’s downfall and deliver a conclusive investigation into the explosion that has arguably scarred the nation beyond repair.
Judge Bitar’s predecessor Fadi Sawan faced legal challenges and eventually was taken off the case in February by the Court of Cessation after he accused the former prime minister and four of his cabinet members of negligence that led to the explosion.
Prosecuting cabinet members in Lebanon requires parliamentary approval, posing a massive test for the nation’s judiciary to hold corrupt officials accountable.