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Beirut blast probe suspended amid political tussle

By AFP - Dec 17,2020 - Last updated at Dec 17,2020

BEIRUT — The Lebanese judge investigating the huge explosion that rocked Beirut in August has suspended the probe after two ministers he charged requested he be removed, judicial sources said on Thursday.

Fadi Sawan on December 10 issued charges against caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers over the August 4 blast that disfigured Lebanon's capital.

The four were charged with "negligence and causing death to hundreds and injuries to thousands more" in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

Among them are former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works minister Ghazi Zaiter, who have since accused Sawan of violating the constitution.

Lebanon's top Cassation Court is now expected to rule on their request for Sawan to be removed from his post.

"Until then, all investigation proceedings are suspended," a senior court judicial official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Diab has also refused to appear in front of the judge on similar grounds.

Lebanon’s politicians have rallied around the argument that the indictment of a minister should be submitted to a vote in parliament.

Diab, who resigned in the wake of the explosion, already testified before Sawan in September.

The huge stock of ammonium nitrate that ignited at Beirut Port had been stored there for years when Diab took office almost exactly a year ago.

The fact that little light has been shed on the circumstances that led to Lebanon’s worst peacetime disaster nearly four months after the blast has caused outrage.

It is also fuelling distrust among international donors, whose support is much needed if Lebanon is to stand a chance of surviving its deepest ever economic crisis.

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