A shattered Beirut emerges from the rubble stunned, wounded

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Rescuers and civil defense search through the debris at Beirut port’s silo on Aug. 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. (AFP)
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Lebanese Druze clerics checks damaged cars, a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)
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Workers remove debris from a damaged restaurant a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 05 August 2020

A shattered Beirut emerges from the rubble stunned, wounded

  • Tuesday’s explosion was the worst the city has ever seen
  • Lebanon was already mired in a severe economic crisis

BEIRUT: Residents of Beirut — stunned, sleepless and stoic — emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes.
The sound of ambulance sirens and the shoveling of glass and rubble could be heard across the Lebanese capital. Almost nothing was left untouched by the blast, which obliterated the port and sent a tide of destruction through the city center.

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Elegant stone buildings, fashionable shopping districts and long stretches of the famed seaside promenade were reduced to rubble within seconds of Tuesday’s blast.
The explosion appeared to have been caused by a blaze at a fireworks warehouse that ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored at the port since 2013. But many blamed the catastrophe on the country’s long-entrenched political class, with some saying it marked the final straw after decades of corruption and neglect.

At least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded. The number of dead was expected to rise as rescuers sifted through the rubble.
“Beirut is gone” said Mohammed Saad, an out-of-town driver making his way through the mangled streets.
“We don’t deserve this,” said Riwa Baltagi, a 23-year-old who was helping friends retrieve valuables from their demolished homes.
Some of the worst damage was in the leafy neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael and Gemayzeh, where the blast damaged some of the few historic buildings that survived the 1975-1990 civil war. Balconies had dropped to street level, where shops and restaurants were buried and chairs and tables turned upside down.
“I have nowhere to go,” a woman said as she wept in what remained of her home in Gemayzeh. “What am I supposed to do?” she screamed into her mobile phone.




A statue representing the Lebanese expatriate is seen in front of a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

Furniture and cushions were strewn along the streets amid the endless shards of glass. The damage could be seen across town in the popular shopping district of Hamra, and at the international airport south of the city. The blast could be felt as far off as Cyprus, a Mediterranean island some 200 kilometers (120 miles) away.
Few lamented the damage at the headquarters of the state electricity company, a symbol of the corruption and poor governance that has bedeviled Lebanon since the end of the war. Many blamed the latest catastrophe on the country’s long-entrenched political class.
“They are so irresponsible that they ended up destroying Beirut,” said Sana, a retired schoolteacher who was preparing to leave her heavily damaged apartment in Mar Mikhael. “I worked for 40 years to make this home and they destroyed it for me in less than a minute.”
“The political class must go. This country is becoming totally hopeless,” she said. “It cannot get worse.”
Lebanon was already mired in a severe economic crisis, with soaring unemployment and a plunging exchange rate that had erased many people’s life savings. The blast demolished a major wheat silo at the port, raising concerns that the small country, which relies on imports, may soon struggle to feed itself.

There were some glimmers of hope amid the tragedy: Volunteers could be seen ferrying the wounded to hospitals on trucks and motorcycles, while others provided first aid.
A widely circulated video showed a crowd erupting in applause as a civil defense worker was rescued from under the rubble. In another, showing the moment of the blast, a nanny grabs a little girl and pulls her to safety as the windows of the apartment shatter inward.
Throughout the night, radio presenters read the names of missing or wounded people. An Instagram page called “Locating Victims Beirut” sprung up with photos of missing people. Another account helped to connect the newly displaced with hotels and homeowners who were willing to host them.
Lebanese have been forced to learn self-reliance throughout the country’s painful history. Beirut was split in half during the 1975-1990 civil war, and in the years since has been rocked by a war with Israel, targeted killings and terror attacks.
But Tuesday’s explosion was the worst the city has ever seen.
Children were among the thousands rushed to hospitals, where many patients had to be treated in hallways and parking lots once the wards filled up.
Elie Khoueiry, a 38-year-old father of two, said he’s had enough.
He estimates the blast caused up to $20,000 worth of damage to his pub, where business was already suffering because of the economic crisis and a coronavirus lockdown.
“If the ruling class wants us to leave, let them give us tickets and we will go,” he said.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.