Families of Beirut explosion victims celebrate 11 months since disaster

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Beirut (AFP)

Dozens of relatives of those killed in the explosion at a Lebanese port gathered on Sunday to mark the 11th month since the disaster and are calling for responses from a slow investigation into prosecution of those responsible.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded on the quay on August 4 last year, killing more than 200 people, injuring thousands and devastating entire swathes of the capital.

It later emerged that senior political and security officials, including then Prime Minister Hassan Diab, had known for years that the explosives were being stored dangerously in the port.

Among the men, women and children who gathered outside the port on Sunday were 47-year-old mother of three, Raghida al-Zein, dressed in black and holding a portrait of her husband who was killed in the explosion.

“I lost the pillar of our house, a friend. We lost everything,” she said, accusing those responsible for being “without conscience”.

Nearby, a teenager and a young girl held up a banner on which was written: “The wives and children of the martyrs of the port of Beirut demand justice.

Ibrahim Hoteit, who lost his brother Sarwat, said the families of the victims needed to know the truth.

“We live in a country run by gangs,” he said of the deeply divided political class, whom many accuse of incompetence and corruption.

Retired army officer Elias Tanios Maalouf, 61, said he lost his son George, a serviceman who was stationed at the entrance to the port when the fertilizer exploded on the evening of August 4, 2020.

“George was taken, and with him all the joy of living,” he said.

Maalouf called the authorities “corrupt and criminal”, but said he had hope in justice.

The judge investigating the blast said on Friday he had summoned outgoing Prime Minister Diab and taken steps to indict several former ministers and security officials over the blast.

A similar move led his predecessor to withdraw from the case in February, after causing an uproar among the political elite for bringing charges against Diab and former cabinet ministers.

The Lebanese government resigned after the explosion, but remained on an interim basis as the country’s many political parties vie for shares in a new cabinet.

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