Lebanon Facing Furious Protests After Explosion
After a massive explosion left at least 158 people dead and devastated broad swaths of Beirut, protesters are up in arms over what they say have been years of government ineptitude and corruption.
The explosion on the docks last week was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in a warehouse without any safety precautions since 2014. The warehouse’s proximity to heavily populated areas of the Lebanese capital led to widespread damage—including injuring thousands of people.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 people gathered for the protest on Saturday, marching from one of the most devastated areas near the port to Martyr’s Square in Beirut’s central district. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces quickly turned violent, with demonstrators hurling rocks and security forces responding with batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets, The New York Times reports. By Saturday night, protesters had stormed three government ministries, spray-painting messages on walls and throwing papers out of windows.
Protests continued throughout the weekend, and resignations from three members of the government cabinet did little to quell frustrations, BBC reports. Anti-government protests over the weekend were the largest since October 2019, when demonstrators marched to protest the ongoing economic crisis, Reuters notes.
Lebanon was in the midst of multiple crises before the explosion—its economy has sunk, banks have refused to let depositors access their money, and unemployment and inflation are on the rise, the Times notes. Amid all this, daily coronavirus cases were spiking, and parts of the country were undergoing lengthy power cuts. UN agencies warn that a humanitarian crisis is likely unless food and medical aid are quickly delivered.
Officials estimate that the explosion caused more than $3 billion of direct damage, bringing Lebanon’s collective economic losses closer to $15 billion, according to the BBC.