Violent clashes involving heavy gunfire have claimed at least two lives in Beirut amid protests against the lead judge investigating last year’s deadly Beirut blast. The Lebanese army has been deployed to quash the unrest.
On Thursday, scenes of unrest uploaded to Twitter showed people running frantically throughout Beirut around the Justice Palace area, with sirens blaring in the background and what sounded like several rounds of gun shots.
#Lebanon #BREAKING ongoing clashes right now in Beirut around the Justice Palace (Badaro/Tayyouneh side) amid a protest for Hezbollah, Amal supporters. It’s not certain who is shooting but these areas are inhabited with a majority of Lebanese Forces supporters. pic.twitter.com/gFJbcxcZ0k
— Luna Safwan – لونا صفوان (@LunaSafwan) October 14, 2021
One graphic video on the social media platform captured heavy gunfire and screaming and a seriously injured man being dragged through the streets bleeding.
In a statement uploaded to the Lebanese army’s Twitter account, the military said that its soldiers will gun down any armed man on the road and anyone who shoots from elsewhere. It also said that its unit had asked civilians to evacuate the streets and that searches were underway to find the assailants.
Lebanon’s Red Cross confirmed that at least two people have been killed and several injured. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the arrest of the perpetrators of the violence in the capital.
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The protests come shortly after the Lebanese court dismissed a case put forward by two politicians, the ex finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works minister Ghazi Zeiter, who were due to stand in the docks in the Beirut blast probe earlier this week.
Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator, had his probe suspended for the second time in under three weeks on Tuesday after Khalil, a senior member of the Shiite Amal movement and an ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, and Zeiter, also close to the movement complained.
Footage from protests against the lead judge in the Beirut blast probe showed people marching through the street and parading on motorcycles shouting their allegiance to Nabih Berri, a Lebanese Shi’ite politician who serves as the speaker of parliament.
Another video purported to show protestors burning and stepping on a photo of Bitar.
Protesters burn and step on a photo of judge Bitar. pic.twitter.com/1snhyTa9oN
— Aya (@Aya_Isk) October 14, 2021
Lebanese Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday called for him to be replaced, accusing him of targeting specific certain officials and people and of being biased.
The inquiry into the port blast, which claimed more than 200 lives, wounded around 7,500 people, and caused widespread devastation in the capital on August 4, 2020, was paused initially at the end of September after an official under investigation filed a complaint against him.
Despite attempts to serve justice, the probe has proven fruitless in its attempts to hold senior officials accountable. In August, Bitar dished out a subpoena to ex-caretaker PM Hassan Diab for failing to show up to his inquiry, but the secretary general of Lebanon’s parliament said that he had used his power excessively.
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On the anniversary of the protests, thousands of Lebanese people hit the streets of Beirut to demand justice for the victims of the catastrophe. Tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed by police on rock-throwing protestors.
Fadi Sawan, Bitar’s predecessor, was axed from his role of leading the inquiry in February after former ministers accused of negligence said he was acting out of his jurisdiction.
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