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Thousands of Protesters Mark 2 Years Since Beirut Port Blast as Part of Silos Collapse

Thousands of Protesters Mark 2 Years Since Beirut Port Blast as Part of Silos Collapse

Thursday, 4 August, 2022 - 15:45
Relatives of victims of the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion hold portraits of loved ones and an altered Lebanese flag to mark the second anniversary of the massive blast, outside the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Thousands of protesters marched in the Lebanese capital on Thursday to mark the second anniversary of a cataclysmic explosion at the Beirut port, with chants denouncing the government's failure to uncover the truth behind the blast.

In a grim reminder of the disaster, several grain silos that were left heavily damaged by the blast collapsed on Thursday afternoon, only hundreds of meters away from where crowds were gathering at the city's waterfront.

The concrete silos cracked and fell, sending a cloud of smoke into the sky. Protesters covered their mouths in disbelief.

The silos had shielded Beirut’s western neighborhoods in the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion that killed nearly 220 people, injured over 6,000 and caused damage worth billions of dollars.

One of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, it was caused by massive stores of ammonium nitrate kept at the site in the port and neglected since 2013.

The 50 year-old, 48-meter-tall silos had withstood the force of the 2020 explosion that destroyed much of the port. Many in Lebanon, including families of the victims, have been demanding that the silos be kept for future generations as a testament to a blast they say was caused by widespread corruption and mismanagement in the country.

The protesters, wearing t-shirts stamped with blood-red handprints, were marching from Lebanon's justice ministry to the city's waterfront and then to parliament in the center of Beirut.

Several senior officials have been accused of responsibility but, to date, none have been held to account - symptomatic, critics say, of a governing elite hamstrung by corruption and on whose watch Lebanon has descended into a political and economic crisis.

“There is no justice under the rule of militia and mafia,” read one banner carried during Thursday's march, an apparent reference to Hezbollah that has been calling for the removal of Tarek Bitar - the judge leading the Lebanese investigation - whom it describes as biased.

Families of victims have also pressed the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international enquiry and on Thursday protested outside the French embassy in Beirut, urging Paris to back an external investigation.

Speaking alongside demonstrators, Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub said France has blocked efforts to set up an external investigation for political reasons.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Thursday marked "two years without justice", and called in a tweet for "an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation" - a plea echoed by the European Union's delegation in Beirut.

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