'We should kill them': Protesters gather in Beirut to vent rage over explosion

Hundreds began gathering in Martyrs' Square on Saturday afternoon for a demonstration to criticise the government's handling of the biggest explosion in Beirut's history

Hundreds of Beirutis took to the streets on Saturday, angry and frustrated by the Lebanese government in the wake of a massive blast this week as the city still mourns the dead.

The foreign, energy, economy and environment ministry buildings were stormed by protesters, who called for an end to corruption and the resignation of the political class.

Televised footage showed protesters setting fire to parts of the Azarieh office complex, where two of the ministries are located. Over hundreds were injured, according to the Lebanese Red Cross, and the country's Internal Security Forces said one officer died.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Monday said he would propose to Cabinet that they hold an early parliamentary election in an attempt to address the country's political crisis.

In a short address on Thursday evening, Mr Diab said he will introduce a draft bill to bring the next election forward from 2022.

"I am with the Lebanese people in wanting change," he said. "We can't exit the country's structural crisis without holding early parliamentary elections."

Protesters were seen carrying mock wooden scaffolds with nooses, and one placard read: "Step down or hang".

"We are going to get our justice from their necks," a protester dressed as an executioner told The National.

Another protester, Bilal Baba, said: "We are going to a funeral for a country that is dead. It's more of a funeral than a protest.

"The politicians and the government should not stand for trial, we should kill them. They control the trials so it's useless, this is a trial by the people," he said.

Asked if the protests were likely to turn violent, Mr Baba pointed to the damage from the explosion visible all around in the twisted wreckage of buildings.

"More than this?" he asked.

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.

But soon after people gathered, police fired live rounds and teargas, with some protesters throwing the canisters back along with fireworks and stones.

Hana Abu Merhi, an operating manager, and her friends were cleaning up the streets when it hit.

"We came down to what is left of Beirut with our cleaning materials, masks, gloves and water to hand out to the people and help clean up the city," she said.

"We were attacked by teargas bomb and had to run with the crowd and were being pushed around just trying to survive the teargas."
She and her friends then helped as a young boy collapsed after inhaling the gas.

Coronavirus was on people's minds as they protested. One protester, who did not want to be named, said she stopped protesting because of coronavirus, but now is so outraged she is coming despite the pandemic.

"I am wearing two masks over my face," she said.

"We are fed up," protester Nour Hatoum said. "We are fed up with this corrupt government. Regardless of everything that happened a few days ago, as well as the forever corruption, we don't even have the minimum [we need] here."

Student Lisa Hammoud, 20, said she was protesting because she wants a "better future" for her, her family and her friends.

"I want to live here, I want to make a better Lebanon. And I will," she said, referring to the fact so many are forced to emigrate to find a future from.

"This is really bad and we don't deserve this," said agricultural engineer Hassan Obeid, 27, pointing to the buildings heavily damaged in the explosion.

"We're here because we're sick of the system. If we didn't hope for change and do something and fight for this country, it's not going to change. We need to live in peace and prosper," Hassan said.

His friend Alia Shafic, 22, who is studying in the US, called for unity, saying, "We need to come together as one."

Several people said they were not at all surprised that French President Emmanuel Macron had visited their gutted neighbourhoods near the epicentre of the blast this week while Lebanese leaders had not.