Beirut blast families carrying coffins scuffle with police outside minister's home

Dozens injured and tear gas used as demonstrations over port blast turn personal

Families of those killed in the Beirut port blast clashed with riot police outside the home of Lebanon’s Interior Minister, Mohammed Fahmi, late into the night on Tuesday.

They left behind coffins and bloodstained portraits in a show of rage at the slow investigation into the blast.

Demonstrators marched on Mr Fahmi’s home for the second time in a week after his decision last week to deny a request by investigators to interrogate a senior security official.

Tuesday’s march was met with force, as emotional police and soldiers were sent to forcibly clear the demonstration, which was largely family members of those killed in the August explosion.

Riot police used tear gas and attacked protesters as a largely peaceful rally turned into a violent clash in which more than 20 people were injured.

Demonstrators successfully scaled the exterior gate of Mr Fahmi’s home, while smashing the glass of the front entrance, although they did not manage to enter the building.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said more than 20 soldiers were injured in the clashes.

Many of the protesters held portraits of their lost families members and shouted for Mr Fahmi to allow justice to be served.

Lebanese security forces personnel wept as the crowd pleaded with them for empathy.

Demonstrators spray-painted $50 on shields being held by riot police, referring to the value of their average monthly salary after the depreciation of Lebanon’s currency by more than 90 per cent in the past year.

Several demonstrators and at least one journalist were also injured in the clashes.

Frustration has been mounting over the lack of accountability over the port blast.

Tuesday’s clashes stemmed from a decision by Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation, to request the interrogation of Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s powerful General Security agency, and other high-ranking officials this month.

The request was denied by Mr Fahmi, and his unwillingness to co-operate with Mr Bitar’s investigation has made him a particular target of anger in recent days.

After a protest outside his home last week, representatives of the demonstration were invited to meet him to discuss the issues, although they were left frustrated by his answers.

Demonstrators also gathered outside Parliament earlier in the day, demanding MPs lift the immunity of three other officials Mr Bitar had requested to interrogate in connection with the blast.

Mr Bitar took over the investigation after his predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was forced to step aside after charging three former ministers and caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab in connection with the blast.

More than 200 people died in the explosion at Beirut port last summer, although an exact death toll has never been published by the authorities.

The inertia of the investigation has mirrored the country’s failure to form a new government after Mr Diab's resignation in the days after the explosion.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 11:33 AM
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