BEIRUT: Thousands of protesters set up a mock gallows in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on Saturday and demanded “revenge” against politicians widely held responsible for the deadly explosion that devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital.
At least 60 people are still missing after the massive blast in Beirut port, which killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 others and left thousands homeless.
As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying.
Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at thousands of people who gathered in the capital calling for the downfall of the country’s political elite, chanting:
“The people want the regime to fall.”
More than 100 protesters were injured in the clashes.
After demonstrators set up the mock gallows, effigies of political leaders, including former prime minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were displayed in some of the most explicit signs of public anger seen in years.
Police shot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who responded by hurling rocks and charging security cordons.
One of the protesters, who gave her name only as Lina, said: “We came from Hasbaya in solidarity with Beirut. We came to stand together in grief and offer condolence for the loss of sons and daughters.
“We came to tell all the leaders to leave so that we can rebuild what you have destroyed, what happened is because of your negligence and greed,” she said.
Meanwhile, the three-member Kataeb party parliamentary bloc resigned on Saturday in protest at the blast, bringing to five the number of MPs to quit since the disaster.
In an emotional speech during a funeral service for a top party official who died in Tuesday’s blast, party leader Samy Gemayel announced his resignation and that of the two other MPs.
Independent MP Paula Yacoubian also resigned, while MP Michel Daher announced his withdrawal from the Strong Lebanon bloc led by the Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil.
As international aid flows into shell-shocked Beirut, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Turkish Vice President Fuad Oktay and European Council President Charles Michel arrived in the city to deliver relief aid and offer support.
After meeting President Michel Aoun and inspecting damage at the Foreign Ministry, near the port, Gheit said he would ask the Economic and Social Council to meet in the next two weeks to "examine the situation in Lebanon and how to help.”
He described the situation as “a disaster,” and said that “we must recognize that the Lebanese situation is difficult and complex.”
The Netherlands Foreign Ministry announced that the wife of Dutch envoy to Lebanon Jan Waltmans died of wounds sustained in the blast.
The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon said that 43 Syrians were among those killed in the explosion.
Military teams working at the blast site carried out tests for chemical, radioactive or biological agents on Saturday, Col. Roger Khoury told Arab News during a media tour.
Rescue teams are working round the clock looking for cell phone signals in the search for those missing after the blast.
However, the teams say they are being hampered by debris from the explosion, including concrete rubble from grain silos destroyed in the blast.
Military divers searching the port and nearby ocean for victims of the blast found a body hurled 500 meters by the force of the blast.
By early Saturday, a total of 61 relief planes had landed at Beirut airport carrying medical and relief supplies as well as food, Ministry of Defense Operations Room Commander Brig. Gen. Jean Nohra told Arab News.
He said that medical supplies are being distributed in coordination with the Ministry of Health.
Supplies are being stored at the headquarters of the Central Military Medical Authority in Beirut before being distributed, he said.