Anti-government protests break out in Beirut

Protesters clashed with Lebanese security forces at anti-government demonstrations in Beirut on Thursday.

Officers deployed tear gas on dozens of people near parliament.

Demonstrators were angered by Tuesday’s devastating blast, which officials say was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely since 2013.

Many in Lebanon say government negligence led to the explosion, which killed at least 137 people and injured about 5,000 others.

The explosion destroyed entire districts in the capital, with homes and businesses reduced to rubble. Dozens of people are still unaccounted for.

The state news agency says 16 people have been taken into custody as part of an investigation announced by the government this week.

Since the disaster two officials have resigned. MP Marwan Hamadeh stepped down on Wednesday, while Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan Tracy Chamoun stepped down on Thursday, saying the catastrophe showed the need for a change in leadership.

Earlier on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron also visited the city and said Lebanon needed to see “profound change” from authorities.

He also called for an international investigation into the disaster.

Where did the ammonium nitrate come from?

In 2013 a Moldovan-flagged ship, the Rhosus, entered Beirut port after suffering technical problems during its journey from Georgia to Mozambique, according to Shiparrested.com, which deals with shipping-related legal cases.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from sailing onward and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, sparking several legal claims.

Its cargo included the ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertiliser and as an explosive.

It was stored in a port warehouse for safety reasons, the report said, and it remained there for the next six years.

There are a lot of rules around storing ammonium nitrate, particularly around fire-proofing, because it is so highly explosive if it comes into contact with flames.

The head of the port and the head of the customs authority said that they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the chemical be exported or sold on to ensure port safety.

Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV they had been aware that the material was dangerous when a court first ordered it stored in the warehouse, “but not to this degree”.

  

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