Anti-government protests erupt in Lebanon

Anti-government protests have broken out in Lebanon following an explosion in Beirut port that killed at least 154 people with a further 5,000 injured.

Although President Michel Aoun has stated: “the cause of the explosion has not yet been determined”, it is suspected 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had ignited after being unsafely stored in a warehouse for six years.

People have taken to the streets to protest against Lebanese leadership, resuming demonstrations previously disrupted by coronavirus fears. Claims of negligence are fuelled by a deep-rooted fear and mistrust of the government in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the civil war.

Protests had started in October 2019 to demonstrate against the corruption and mismanagement present in Lebanese leadership, with the explosion acting as a catalyst for further unrest.

As Lebanon enters three days of national mourning, hundreds of thousands of people find themselves homeless. Overwhelmed hospitals deal with the added weight of the incident while struggling to uphold measures imposed by the pandemic. The lack of support from the government is apparent in footage emerging from the scene, showing victims trying to pick through the wreckage of their own homes and people scrambling to organise aid.

Dozens of people gathered near parliament on Thursday night, throwing stones and setting fires in the streets. Demanding a change in leadership, enraged protestors were met by security forces deploying tear gas. 

Previously in 2005, an explosion in Beirut killed Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafic Hariri. A UN security council were due to reveal the official verdict of the investigation into the assassination on Friday 7th August – 15 years after the initial incident.

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen predicted the protests ahead of time, describing the crisis in Lebanon as an “insupportable situation” even before the explosion. He said: “they will be back on the streets if they don’t get answers. I am certain of it.”

Tracy Chamoun, Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan, announced her resignation “in protest against state negligence, theft and lying,” echoing the sentiments of protestors towards Lebanese leadership: “We should not show any of them mercy and they all must go.”

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Dolly Carter

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September 2021
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