Protesters raid gov't buildings as fury grows over Beirut blast

Beirut, Lebanon –  Protesters have stormed government buildings in Beirut as tens of thousands of people rallied against Lebanon’s ruling class amid growing anger over a deadly explosion at the capital’s port.

Tense clashes erupted with police after the demonstrators on Saturday attempted to reach Lebanon’s parliament building.

Police used large amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets and fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowds. Police said one officer died during the clashes, while more than 100 protesters were wounded, according to the Red Cross.

Later on Saturday, army and protesters clashed by Beirut’s main ring road near the city centre. Soldiers used sticks to beat protesters who responded by throwing rocks at them.

“Take of the suit and come stand with us, then you can wear it again with honour,” a protester said as a number of them confronted a line of soldiers.

“Tell us what you get from being with them?” a demonstrator shouted in a hoarse voice. “We really don’t understand it, why are you doing this to us?”

Protesters erected symbolic gallows in central Beirut [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

Earlier, demonstrators in Martyrs’ Square erected gallows and hung up cardboard cutouts of Lebanon’s political class, which they blame for the enormous explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, killing more than 150 people, wounding 6,000 and leaving some 250,000 people without homes.

In unison, the protesters chanted slogans against President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, among others.

Protesters, meanwhile, stormed several government ministries, including the economy ministry, which is located on the sixth floor of a building in central Beirut. They threw down documents and a picture of Aoun, while fires burned into the night. 

At the foreign ministry, which was also raided along the environment ministry, protesters hung up a banner reading “Beirut, capital of the revolution”.

Beirut protests

The banner at the foreign ministry in Beirut [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

“We have overtaken the headquarters of the foreign ministry and consider it the base of the October 17 revolution on the basis that the ministry of foreign affairs is the face of Lebanon to the outside world,” said former General Sami Rammal, referring to an anti-establishment protest movement that erupted in the country last year.

“Tonight, we will sleep here. They can take us out with bullets but we will not leave out of our own free will.”

In an address to the nation late on Saturday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has been in power since February after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government was forced to resign in the face of the mass anti-establishment protests, said he would introduce a draft bill on Monday to hold an early election.

It remained unclear when the vote would be held if the bill was passed.

Beirut protests

Dozens of protesters were wounded in clashes with police [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

Officials have linked Tuesday’s blast to 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the port for more than six years – a fact seen by many Lebanese as an indictment of the country’s ruling class.

The protests come about 10 months after Lebanese from across the country’s religious and political divides began staging mass demonstrations demanding the ruling class be held accountable for years of mismanagement and corruption.

At the peak of those protests, some would spend the night in central Beirut but most would return to their homes.

Following the blast, however, many of these protesters do not have homes to return to.

“If you don’t fight corruption this is what would happen, let that be a message to all democracies in the world,” a protester told Al Jazeera. 

Beirut protests

The protest on Saturday drew large crowds [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

Beirut protests

Fires burned into the night in central Beirut [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

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