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Anti-Gov't Protest Spirals into Riot After Deadly Lebanese Explosion

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Lebanese security forces clashed with stone-throwing protesters after they tried to reach the Parliament area in downtown Beirut.

Thousands of people had poured into Beirut’s main square on Saturday hanging up symbolic nooses after this week’s explosion.

The violence by a small group of young men began at the start of anti-government protests planned in the wake of the deadly blast at Beirut port that devastated large parts of the capital and killed more than 150 people.

The explosion of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port, apparently set off by a fire, was the biggest in Lebanon’s history and caused an estimated $10-15 billion worth of damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

Senior officials from the Middle East and Europe started arriving in Lebanon on Saturday in a show of solidarity with the tiny country.

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Lebanon’s ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, is blamed for widespread corruption, incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to Tuesday’s explosion.

The president of the Christian opposition Kataeb party said its three legislators have decided to resign from Parliament over this week’s “disaster.”

Sami Gemayel called on every “honorable” member of parliament to resign and work for the “birth of a new Lebanon.”

A senior Kataeb party official was killed in the blast, which claimed at least 154 lives, wounded more than 5,000 people and laid waste to the country’s largest port and nearby areas.

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Also killed were 43 Syrians, the country’s embassy in Beirut said. Lebanon is home to some 1 million Syrian refugees.

The Dutch foreign ministry said Saturday that Hedwig Waltmans-Molier, the wife of the Netherlands’ ambassador to Lebanon, had also died of injuries sustained in Tuesday’s blast.

The explosion came at a time when Lebanon is mired in its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

Documents that surfaced after the blast showed that for years officials had been repeatedly warned that the presence of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port posed grave danger, but no one acted to remove it.

Officials have been blaming one another since the explosion and 19 people have been detained, including the port’s chief, the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor.

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“We will support Lebanon through all available means,” Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary general of the 22-member Arab League told reporters after meeting with President Michel Aoun on Saturday morning.

Aboul Gheit said he would take part in a donors conference for Lebanon in France on Sunday and represent Lebanon’s interests to the international community.

Later on Saturday the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, arrived in Beirut for a brief visit.

Turkey’s vice president and the country’s foreign minister arrived Saturday morning and met Aoun, saying that Ankara was ready to help rebuild Beirut’s port and evacuate some of the wounded from Lebanon to Turkey for treatment.

At the site of the blast in Beirut’s port, workers were still searching for dozens of people who have been missing since Tuesday. Bulldozers were also seen removing debris near the giant grain silos that are still partly standing.

International aid has been flowing to Lebanon for days and several field hospitals have been set up around Beirut to help treat the wounded.

President Donald Trump said Friday that he had spoken by telephone with Aoun and French President Emmanuel Macron, who paid a brief visit to Lebanon on Thursday.

Trump noted that medical supplies, food and water were being sent from the United States, along with emergency responders, technicians, doctors and nurses.

The ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizers and explosives, originated from a cargo ship called MV Rhosus that had been traveling from the country of Georgia to Mozambique in 2013.

It made an unscheduled detour to Beirut as the Russian shipowner was struggling with debts and hoped to earn some extra cash in Lebanon. Unable to pay port fees and reportedly leaking, the ship was impounded.

In 2014, the material was moved from the ship and placed in a warehouse at the port where it stayed until the explosion.


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