Relatives of the victims protested on Thursday following the release of all suspects in the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion. Around 100 angry people gathered in front of the Palace of Justice in the Lebanese capital to demonstrate against the move. Security forces tried to break up the protest by force. At least three demonstrators were injured.
The Lebanese Attorney General Ghassan Oweidat had announced the release of all suspects the day before. The decision is another setback for the already sluggish investigations into the catastrophe. The investigating judge in the case, Tarek Bitar, brought charges against eight suspects earlier this week, including Attorney General Oweidat.
Bitar's investigations had been on hold for more than a year. Several ex-ministers accused in the case filed complaints against the judge, further delaying the investigation process. Bitar's predecessor had already had to vacate his post due to similar complaints. Several high-ranking politicians feel threatened by the investigation. Attorney General Oweidat announced legal action against Bitar on Wednesday.
Many Lebanese blame the political leadership for the disaster and also accuse it of influencing the decisions of the judiciary. Judge Bitar, on the other hand, enjoys a lot of trust among the relatives. The protest, which was also attended by activists and some members of parliament, was also intended as a sign of support for the judge.
More than 190 dead in explosion in August 2020
The explosion that occurred in August 2020 killed more than 190 people and injured around 6,000. It is said to have been triggered by large quantities of the highly explosive chemical ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in the port for years without protective measures. Large parts of the port and the adjacent residential areas were destroyed by the detonation.
The small Mediterranean country is also suffering from a severe economic and financial crisis. On Thursday, the national currency fell to a record low of 61,000 Lebanese pounds to one US dollar. The same amount was worth around $40 three years ago. Many Lebanese have since slipped into poverty.