Police, protesters clash in wake of Beirut blasts

Riot police fire tear gas against anti-government protesters during a demonstration outside of the Lebanese Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, on Saturday. Photo by Wael Hamzeh/EPA-EFE
1 of 3 | Riot police fire tear gas against anti-government protesters during a demonstration outside of the Lebanese Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, on Saturday. Photo by Wael Hamzeh/EPA-EFE

Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Beirut police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Saturday toward thousands of protesters calling for government accountability for this week's explosions at a port that killed over 150 people.

Police also shot live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowd.


Demonstrators erected mock gallows in the city's central Martyrs Square where they gathered from early afternoon, and stormed the foreign ministry, the environment ministry and the economy ministry, as well as the Banking Association, Saturday night.

Protesters accused the government of corruption and incompetence, which they said contributed to the explosions.

"The people want the fall of the regime," protesters chanted.

The demonstrators held posters saying, "leave, you are all killers."

The first tear gas was deployed after a group of protesters attempted to break through a barrier blocking a street to Parliament, The Guardian reported.


Many children and older people in the demonstrators left as clashes between police and protesters escalated.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Friday that all officials responsible for Tuesday's explosion would be held accountable.

The country's prime minister, Hassan Diab, has also vowed to hold early elections and will remain in power for two more months as the major parties work toward an agreement.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut on Saturday tweeted support for the protesters.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said he plans to join a conference call with other global leaders to discuss aid to Lebanon.

The explosion in the port of the Lebanon's capital Tuesday killed at least 157 people, injured 5,000, and left many homeless, exacerbating the country's severe economic crisis, already worsened by COVID-19 pandemic.

France and the United Nations are leading the conference call for aid, which Trump will join Sunday.

"We will be having a conference call on Sunday with [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron, leaders of Lebanon, and leaders from various other parts of the world," Trump tweeted Friday. "Everyone wants to help!"


Trump called the blasts a "horrible event" and said that doctors, nurses and three large aircraft were on the way with medical supplies, food, water and other emergency equipment.

Late Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added in a tweet that the United States has pledged more than $17 million in disaster aid to Lebanon.

"We remain ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from the horrible August 4th explosion," Pompeo also tweeted. "We keep everyone affected in this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers."

The blasts left about 300,000 people homeless and repairs are estimated to cost billions of dollars, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Air Force delivered 11 pallets of food, water and medical supplies.

Lebanese officials on Thursday, arrested 16 people linked to their investigation into the explosion.

On the same day, Human Rights Watch invited international experts to do an independent investigation, saying that there was evidence that some judges knew ammonium nitrate was stored at the port and did nothing about it. The non-governmental human rights organization also said that there have been previous incidents where the judiciary failed to uphold the rule of law or conduct proper inquiry.


Lebanese security forces on Thursday clashed with protesters who blamed the explosion on government negligence. And UNICEF, the U.N. agency that oversees humanitarian aid for youth, said some 80,000 children are in need of support after being displaced by the blast.

A day earlier the government said it planned to place port officials under house arrest in as part of investigation into why 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored at nearby warehouses.

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