The second anniversary of the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut in Lebanon was marked on Thursday by demonstrations by relatives of the victims demanding an international investigation to find out the truth about the tragedy and by another collapse of silos in the port area. On August 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored carelessly in a warehouse near the port exploded. More than 200 dead and 6,500 injured were counted and neighborhoods were completely devastated, a tragic event that caused trauma for all Lebanese.
In 2020, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in the world
It has been called one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded anywhere in the world. But two years later, we still do not know its exact causes or the identity of those responsible in a country where impunity very often reigns. We need “an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday, echoing calls from NGOs, experts and the families of the victims.
Thursday from 3 p.m. (12 p.m. GMT), three separate marches organized at the call of relatives of victims in the direction of the port started. And on this day of remembrance as an unfortunate reminder of the explosion two years ago, a new part of the silos which hold thousands of tons of wheat and other grains have collapsed following a fire.
New collapse on the sidelines of a demonstration
The collapse occurred as marches of protesters arrived at the Port of Beirut. “I see the same scene, almost from the same place, two years later,” Lama Hachem, 30, told AFP in downtown Beirut as he watched a cloud of dust emanating from the port. “It’s shocking that the same scene is repeated in front of us today,” she added, holding back tears in shock.
“No justice under the rule of the militia and the mafia”, could we read on one of the banners brandished by the demonstrators. A reference to the ruling class – in place for decades – accused by a large part of the population of mismanagement, corruption and neglect. “When the explosion happened, we thought the truth would come out after five days… two years have passed and we don’t know anything,” Aya Qassem, 21, told AFP. who took part in the demonstrations.
Lebanese demonstrators marched on Thursday, two years after the explosion.
Credits: ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Protesters ask for support from France
One of the marches briefly stopped in front of the French Embassy, where demonstrators demanded support from Paris for the relaunch of the investigation. “What we’re calling for is an international investigation into the criminals,” said Tracy Naggear, who lost her 3-year-old daughter Alexandra in the blast.
In an interview with the Lebanese daily The Orient-The Day published on Thursday French President Emmanuel Macron insisted on the importance of knowing the truth. “I say it again today with force: justice must be done. To mourn and rebuild, the Lebanese men and women and all those who live in this country (…) need to know the truth”, a he said. Lebanon is today mired in the worst economic crisis in its history: vertiginous fall of the local currency, shortages of fuels, medicines, bread and drinking water, banking restrictions and an impoverishment of the population.
Demolition of silos suspended
The explosion, “it was a nightmare”, remembers Lara Khatchikian in her apartment facing the port which was badly damaged but which she restored. “My neighbors and I were constantly stressed. I felt fear, we couldn’t sleep. It takes superhuman strength to live when you constantly remember the explosion,” she added.
In April, the government ordered the demolition of the silos, but this operation was suspended due to objections from relatives of victims who want to make it a place of memory. But more than two weeks ago, a fire broke out in the most damaged part of the silos, causing the silos to collapse on Sunday followed by another collapse on Thursday.
An investigation also suspended for political reasons
The investigation, too, has been suspended for months due to political obstruction. The main investigator, Tarek Bitar, has been prevented from continuing his mission by a series of lawsuits brought against him and by a campaign led by the powerful armed movement of Hezbollah which accuses the judge of bias.
“Lebanese justice must be able to work and complete its investigation in complete transparency, free from any political interference,” the Quai d’Orsay spokesperson said Thursday during a press briefing. Be that as it may, for NGOs and independent UN experts “it is clear today more than ever that the national inquiry cannot do justice”. And that an international investigation “without delay” is necessary.
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