Lebanon's president ready to give statement about Beirut blast

Michel Aoun said no one was above the law no matter how high up

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Lebanon's president says he is ready to give a statement about the massive blast that hit Beirut last August if the judge leading the investigation asks for it.

“No one is above the law no matter how high up and justice can only be achieved through the specialised judicial branches that provide guarantees,” President Michel Aoun was quoted as telling the country’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, according to a statement released by the president's office.

Mr Aoun’s remarks came days after former prime minister Saad Hariri called for a constitutional amendment to lift immunity that protects top officials from prosecution, including the president.

Mr Hariri's call was criticised by victims' families as the latest attempt to obstruct justice after parliament failed to approve a request by the lead investigative judge to lift immunity on three lawmakers indicted along with caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab of criminal negligence in connection with the explosion.

The blast killed at least 214 people and injured thousands while causing billions of US dollars in damage to property across the capital.

The explosion was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate that were stored at a warehouse at Beirut port for six years with the knowledge of the country's top security agencies.

It remains unclear who owned the explosive chemicals, why they were stored for so long or what triggered the explosion.

Mr Hariri and the president had previously sparred over the stalled investigation into the blast. The Future Movement leader had called the indictment of Mr Diab an attack on the post of premier, a position reserved for a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system.

Mr Diab's indictment led to the ouster of Judge Fadi Sawan, the former lead investigator. Mr Diab, along with MPs Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, both members of Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, had snubbed Mr Sawan’s summons, arguing he had no authority to question them under the constitution.

Mr Sawan was replaced by Judge Tarek Bitar, who has recently asked Parliament for permission to question and prosecute the three MPs in connection with the case.

His request was met with resistance from politicians who argued that Mr Bitar must present further evidence before his request to lift immunity was referred to the General Assembly for a vote.

A number of lawmakers then signed a petition calling on Parliament to try the three MPs by a special body that include their peers and high-ranking judges.

Updated: August 2nd 2021, 8:59 AM
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