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Lebanon prosecutor to question ministers over Beirut explosion

Destroyed buildings after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on 6 August 2020 [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]
Destroyed buildings after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on 6 August 2020 [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]

Several former and current ministers will be questioned by a Lebanese prosecutor over the explosion in Beirut’s port last week, Agence France Presse reports.

Questioning is set to start with the former Minister of Public works, Ghazi Al Aridi, who served in the position between 2009 and 2013, and will include several of his successors.

Former and current minsters of finance and justice will also face questioning, according to the report, including members of the government who are acting in a caretaker capacity after collectively resigning on Monday over the 4 August explosion.

Despite plans to question current and former politicians, however, Lebanon’s judiciary does not have the authority to prosecute ministers or presidents. This means the case would have to be transferred to a special council if evidence of negligence is found, according to AFP.

The explosion happened when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely in Beirut port’s warehouse 12 for six years, caught light.

Lebanon: Dangerous chemicals still in Beirut

Documents unearthed in the aftermath of the explosion show Lebanese politicians, including President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab, were aware that tonnes of highly explosive chemicals were stored in Beirut’s port.

According to a report by the General Directorate of State Security, a letter was sent privately to Aoun and Diab on 20 July warning of the security risk, but no action was taken.

At least 171 people were killed in the explosion while thousands more were injured and approximately 300,000 residents made homeless.

Protests, which have been ongoing since October 2019, reignited after the 4 August explosion, calling for the downfall of the government, president and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri.

The cabinet’s collective resignation on Monday has failed to placate demonstrators who have continued to call on Aoun and Berri to step down.

“HE KNEW. A government goes, a government comes; we will continue until the president and the parliament speaker are removed,” was scrawled across a poster-sized picture of Aoun at a vigil held near “ground zero” on Tuesday.

Despite protesters’ calls for the entire political class to resign, however, parliament has been quick to start negotiations for the formation of the next government, with a diplomat and jurist, Nawaf Salam, reportedly emerging as the favoured option.

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