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Victims continue fight for justice two years after deadly Beirut port blast

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Crisis-stricken Lebanon has been two years since a massive explosion ripped through Beirut on Thursday, with victims’ relatives planning protest marches as they continue to demand truth and justice.

The portside explosion of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed large areas of the capital.

Yet an investigation into the cause has been stalled by political interference and no state official has yet been held responsible for the August 4, 2020 tragedy.

Several badly damaged grain silos that became a grim symbol of the disaster collapsed last week, and more are dangerously close to collapsing, experts warn.

“I hope seeing the silos falling will give people the will to fight for justice, to fight with us,” said Tatiana Hasrouty, who lost her father in the explosion.

Politicians are “doing everything they can to stop the investigation” into the fertilizer explosion, she said.

The mega-explosion was a nightmarish moment in Lebanon’s chaotic history, which is embroiled in the worst economic crisis ever, marked by blackouts, runaway inflation and widespread despair.

When protesters gather in the harbor in three separate marches from 1200 GMT on Thursday, they will smell the smoke billowing from the silos where fermenting grain smolders in the blistering summer heat.

‘A nightmare’

The massive explosion two years ago was felt as far as Cyprus, causing the kind of devastation normally caused by wars and natural disasters.

It further scarred the crisis-ravaged population and accelerated a mass exodus reminiscent of flight during the civil war of 1975-1990.

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However, Lebanon’s ruling class, accused of misgovernment, defrauding and gross negligence, has clung firmly to power, even as the population struggles with fuel, medicine and clean water shortages.

“This ruling class is killing us every day,” Hasrouty said. “If we didn’t die in the explosion, we’re starving for lack of basic human rights.”

Power cuts last up to 23 hours a day, streets are dark at night and traffic lights out of service, leaving some neighborhoods mainly lit by the silo fires.

Lara Khatchikian, 51, whose apartment was hit hard two years ago, has seen the fires and calls the spectacle “a nightmare”.

“My neighbors and I were stressed all the time,” she said. “I felt fear, we couldn’t sleep. It takes superhuman strength to live when you are constantly reminded of the blast.”

no justice

The government ordered the demolition of the silos in April, but it has been suspended, in part due to objections from victims’ relatives who want them to be preserved as memorials.

French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who oversees the silos, has warned that the danger of further partial collapse “has never been greater” and could come “any moment”.

Meanwhile, the probe is also at risk of falling apart, as officials have curtailed the work of lead investigator Tarek Bitar with a series of lawsuits.

A judicial official close to the investigation said Judge Bitar’s work had been on hold since Dec. 23.

The victims’ families are divided, some accusing Bitar of bias and others considering him their only hope.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups launched another call on Wednesday for the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission.

Together they stated that “it is now, more than ever, clear that the domestic investigation cannot bring justice”.

(AFP)

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