Beirut explosion: Angry protesters enter foreign ministry

Beirut explosion: Angry protesters enter foreign ministry

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Dozens of protesters in Beirut have entered the foreign ministry during a wider demonstration over Tuesday’s huge explosion that left at least 158 dead.

Several thousand people are on the streets in a planned protest, but there has been violence. Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators.

Sounds of gunfire have also been heard from central Martyrs’ Square.

In a speech, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would ask for early elections as a way out of the crisis.

Many Lebanese are furious at the failure to prevent the explosion of over 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.

The material, which was being stored in a warehouse, had been seized from a ship six years ago but never moved. The government has promised to find those responsible.

The blast at the port devastated parts of the city and has deepened distrust of what many had already seen as an inept and corrupt political class. An anti-government protest movement erupted last October, fuelled by an economic crisis and a collapsing currency.

What is happening on the streets?

Crowds estimated at between 5,000 and 7,000 took to the streets in another day of protest, including a march from one of the most devastated areas near the port to Martyrs’ Square.

Skirmishes with the police began early on. Some protesters hurled rocks and sticks, and the police replied with tear gas and rubber bullets. There were flashpoints at barricades designed to prevent demonstrators reaching parliament.

But a group of several dozen chanting anti-government slogans and burning a portrait of President Michel Aoun entered the foreign ministry and called for all ministries to be occupied.

“We have it. It’s all ours. The police is outside the gate. They could not stop us,” one of the protesters, who identified herself as Rebecca, told the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme.

She said there were around 100 demonstrators inside the building, who had gained entry as it was already damaged by Tuesday’s blast. She said the protesters intended to stay as long as possible and occupy other ministries.

Police also confirmed to Reuters news agency that live ammunition had been fired in central Beirut, though it is not clear who fired.

Lebanese media quote the local Red Cross as saying that 110 people have been injured during the demonstrations – a third have been taken to hospital.

As the protests got under way, mock gallows were erected in Martyrs’ Square to hammer home the demonstrators’ view of the country’s political leaders

Apart from showing the city’s anger, the march was also meant to remember victims of the explosion, which injured 6,000, according to the latest update. Around 300,000 people are homeless.__BBC

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