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Relatives of Lebanon blast victims scuffle with police

By AFP - Jul 13,2021 - Last updated at Jul 13,2021

Demonstrators and families of the Beirut blast victims argue with security forces after breaking into the residence of Lebanon’s interior minister in the Qoraitem neighbourhood of western Beirut on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — Carrying mock coffins, relatives of those killed in Lebanon’s port blast scuffled with police on Tuesday outside the residence of caretaker interior minister Mohammad Fahmi whom they accuse of stalling a probe.

The detonation of a huge stockpile of fertiliser at the port last August 4 killed more than 200 people and wrecked huge swathes of the capital.

A blast investigation launched in the wake of the tragedy has yet to hold any officials to account, with the victims’ families charging that political interference has derailed the process.

On Tuesday, dozens gathered outside Fahmi’s Beirut apartment after he rejected a request by the judge investigating the blast to question Abbas Ibrahim, head of the General Security bureau, one of the country’s top security agencies.

“By refusing to lift Abbas Ibrahim’s legal immunity, the interior minister is standing between us, the relatives of blast victims, and justice,” said Paul Najjar, who lost his three-year-old daughter Alexandra to the explosion.

“He is killing us a second time,” Najjar said, referring to Fahmi.

Less than a month before the first anniversary of the tragedy, the relatives tore off all the gates at the entrance to Fahmi’s apartment building, an AFP correspondent said.

They displayed portraits of the deceased in a makeshift shrine and piled up white coffins just outside the block, the correspondent said.

“These are the coffins of our children,” Najjar said.

The demonstration sparked a stand-off with police who tried to push families back.

Last month, rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for a UN investigation into the explosion in light of Lebanon’s stalled probe.

Lead judge Tarek Bitar is demanding that parliament lift the immunity of ex-finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former public works minister Ghazi Zaiter and ex-interior minister Nohad Machnouk.

Deputy speaker Elie Ferzli said parliament’s administration and justice committee on Friday decided to “request all evidence available in the investigation, as well as all documents that prove suspicions” before immunity is waived.

However, Bitar this week rejected parliament’s request, a judicial source told AFP.

In February, Bitar’s predecessor as lead judge in the probe was removed by a court, which questioned his impartiality because his home was damaged in the explosion.

The judge had in December issued charges against caretaker premier Hassan Diab and three former ministers for “negligence and causing death to hundreds”, triggering outrage from politicians.

 

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