Photo Credit: CNN
It’s been just a year after two explosions shook the port of Beirut which pushed the city to near economic collapse and resulted in the death of 200+ people and 6,000 injured. Protests have intensified during the past months in the streets as the country is mired in one of the worst financial crises in the world in more than a century according to the World Bank. Thousands of citizens face drug and gasoline shortages, while power outages threaten to further destabilize the Middle Eastern country. In hospitals, they have run out of the necessary drugs to treat diseases such as cancer and heart disease. This past month, Lebanon’s two largest power plants (which together provide more than 40% of the country’s electricity) closed due to a lack of fuel and unpaid debts.
The country’s leaders have yet to agree on a new government and the official investigation into the explosion has not even concluded. Lebanon is sinking deeper into a crisis amid inflation, unemployment, and food/fuel shortages. Half of the country’s population now lives below the poverty line. Mourning has turned into rage against a political elite accused of corruption and negligence that did not do enough to prevent disaster.
Tarek Bitar has been named the judge in charge of the investigation after his predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed from the investigation by the Lebanese courts due to accusations of bias. However, tensions have not stopped rising, seeing as Bitar has also been accused of bias in the investigation. Hezbollah has emerged as one of the most categorical groups when it comes to demanding the removal of Bitar. In response the Lebanese courts suspended Bitar’s work, however, the accusations ended up being dismissed and he resumed his work.
Distrust in the government was also furthered when a President’s statement mentioned that a session was postponed due to a hectic meeting the previous day.
What has happened after this series of events in Beirut?
On Thursday, October 14th, the city was once again struck by fear and tragedy. According to military sources, at least six people were killed and 32 injured after shots were fired during a protest in Beirut. The demonstration was called by the Hezbollah group, most of the protesters were followers of the Shiite militia-party Hezbollah and the Shiite Movement AMAL, demanding the dismissal of Judge Bitar. Shots were fired at the protesters, and the situation quickly led to open clashes in which rocket-propelled grenades were fired. A correspondent for the AP news agency claimed that she saw a man open fire with a pistol during the demonstration, as well as armed individuals firing at the protesters from the balcony of a building.
Immediately there was a strong deployment of the Army that sent vehicles to the area to search for the alleged aggressors. The military warned that they would open fire on anyone who shot at the protestors and called on civilians to evacuate the area. It has not yet been clarified who opened fire, although the authorities have arrested about ten people. Images and videos disseminated on social networks show pistols, assault rifles, and grenade launchers, as well as people seeking refuge, and the arrival of ambulances amid the sound of gunfire.
How has the international community reacted?
After this tragic event, the EU condemned the violence registered in the city and expressed its condolences with the families of those who died in the altercations. In its message, they’ve called to calm all the actors and those who have asked to avoid an escalation of violence.
The EU has asked for a credible and transparent investigation, as soon as possible, into the explosion that devastated Beirut in August 2020. In the face of protests generated by the blocking of the investigation, the EU has asked that it proceed without interference and that it purge responsibilities about the tragedy.
“It is up to the Lebanese authorities to allow the investigation to continue with all the financial and human resources necessary so that it can shed light on what happened and give a credible answer to the questions of the Lebanese.”– EU Delegation
For their part, the governments of Russia and Iran joined the international reactions, after both the United States and France and the United Nations issued statements calling for containment to avoid a further deterioration of the situation in the country.
After these events, only dozens of protesters had the courage to go to the streets to mark the second anniversary of the 2019 anti-government protest movement in Beirut. This protest took place on Sunday, October 17, three days after the deadly clashes in a country mired in an acute economic, political and social crisis.