Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Lebanon questions security chief, minister quits over blast

Published:Monday | August 10, 2020 | 9:09 AM
Earth moving equipment and rescue workers search for victims, Monday, August 10, 2020, in Beirut, Lebanon, near the site of last week's explosion that hit the city's seaport. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese judge on Monday began questioning the heads of the country’s security agencies over last week’s devastating blast in Beirut as another Cabinet minister resigned in protest.

The Cabinet was scheduled to convene later Monday, amid speculation that the government could resign en masse.

Or, if four more ministers resign, the Cabinet would collapse, consigning it to caretaker status until a new one is formed.

The massive blast on August 4 has brought a new wave of public outrage at the government and Lebanon’s long entrenched ruling class.

Protests were planned outside the government headquarters to coincide with the Cabinet meeting after large demonstrations over the weekend that saw clashes with security forces firing tear gas at protesters.

The explosion, centred at Beirut port, is believed to have been caused by a fire that ignited a 2,750-ton stockpile of explosive ammonium nitrate.

The material had been stored at the port since 2013 with few safeguards despite numerous warnings of the danger.

The result was a disaster Lebanese blame squarely on their leadership’s corruption and neglect.

The blast killed at least 160 people and wounded about 6,000, in addition to destroying the country’s main port and damaging large parts of the capital.

Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, and nearly 300,000 people were left homeless in the immediate aftermath.

Public Prosecutor Ghassan El Khoury began questioning Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, the head of State Security, according to state-run National News Agency. It gave no further details, but other generals are scheduled to be questioned.

State Security had compiled a report about the dangers of storing the material at the port and sent a copy to the offices of the president and prime minister on July 20. The investigation is focused on how the ammonium nitrate came to be stored at the port and why nothing was done about it.

About 20 people have been detained over the blast, including the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor, as well as the head of the port. Dozens of people have been questioned, including two former Cabinet ministers, according to government officials.

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