Some 10,000 people attended demonstrations in central Beirut, which quickly escalated into violent clashes with police. About half an hour later, the police unit in charge of public order announced that a police officer had been killed during a clash with their protesters and in an attempt to stop the riots. The Lebanese Red Cross said 55 people had been evacuated to hospitals and 117 had been treated on the spot.
Earlier in the day, security forces fired tear gas at protesters in Beirut, who were trying to make their way to the parliament building. According to reports in Lebanon, in some cases, police and soldiers fired live ammunition.
Dozens of protesters broke into the Lebanese Foreign Ministry in Beirut, burned and slaughtered pictures of President Michel Aoun, who many see as responsible for the country’s difficult economic and political situation. “We are staying here. We are calling on all protesters to take over government offices,” one of the protesters shouted in a megaphone to the crowd. The building of the Ministry of Environmental Protection was set on fire and other government offices throughout the capital were damaged.
Protesters take over Foreign Ministry building in Beirut / Photo: Ellen Francis, Reuters
The demonstrators gathered in central Beirut following the deadly explosion at the port last Tuesday, which killed 158 people and injured about 6,000. 21 people are still missing. At least 300,000 people have been left homeless, some of them housed in a tent camp set up by the Lebanese army, but most of them have no solutions. The Lebanese government has promised to prosecute the culprits, but so far only a few have been arrested.
Protesters confront police in demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon / Photo: Felipe Dana, AP
The demonstration today is the first major demonstration since the blast, and the AP noted that the organizers intended to hold symbolic funerals for the victims of the disaster. However, with the onset of protests, young protesters began throwing stones at security forces. Near the parliament, security forces fired tear gas at protesters trying to break through a checkpoint leading to the building. Later, protesters burned a truck, which served as a checkpoint on the road leading to the parliament building.
Massive, massive anti-government protests in Beirut today.
– Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) August 8, 2020
The protesters shouted slogans such as “The people want the regime to fall” – a slogan that was also popular in the Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011. The demonstrators also demanded a “revolution” and held signs that read “Leave, you are all murderers.” Other protesters walked around with hanging ropes, next to a sign that read “Resign or hang.” During one of the demonstrations, a hanging pole was placed on which cardboard figures of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, were hung, along with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab. The protesters chanted “Hezbollah terrorist organization” and demanded an international investigation. A huge wall in the port of Beirut overlooking the disaster area reads: “Hezbollah is responsible for the explosion.”
– Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 8, 2020
Beirut residents are after months of demonstrations over government corruption, and the disaster this week has only exacerbated despair. “We have no confidence in the government,” one resident of the city told Reuters as she cleaned blood from the exterior wall of her apartment, which was badly damaged by the blast. “I wish the UN would take control of Lebanon.”
– Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) August 8, 2020
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the region on Thursday, while Lebanese leaders have not yet done so. During Macron’s tour, hundreds of civilians gathered, chanting insults at Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Among other things, he was called a terrorist because of the backing he gives to Hezbollah, a partner in the Lebanese government.
The demonstrators, who represent a sizeable public in Lebanon, are in fact continuing the wave of protests that has erupted in the past year due to the difficult economic situation, and the allegations of government corruption. The explosion at the port rekindled the demonstrations amid allegations that Hezbollah had planted weapons there. According to one version distributed in Lebanon and supported by experts, the explosion was of a huge amount of explosives and not of ammonium nitrate as the government version.
A former Lebanese government minister has accused Hezbollah of holding entire hangars in the port without any government officials, including customs or security officials, being able to enter them.
Bottom line, Lebanese citizens did not buy Nasrallah’s speech on Tuesday, in which he denied allegations of responsibility for the disaster. According to the calls on social media, the demonstrations will continue tonight and into the night, and if they spread to other cities in Lebanon again, the shaky government will have a hard time holding out.