Beirut blast investigation halted for second time

A probe into the deadly explosion at Beirut port, two years ago, has been suspended for a second time after a former senior official asked for dismissing of the chief investigator from the controversial case.

On Monday, Tarek Bitar was forced to suspend the probe after ex-Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, one of multiple officials under investigation, filed a complaint against him last week.

The court will decide whether Bitar will continue his investigation into the port blast that killed more than 200 people, wounded around 7,500, and caused widespread devastation in the capital on August 4, 2020. It was later revealed that the blast detonated at a warehouse storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive substance, which sat there for around six years before the disaster.

If the judiciary removes the top judge, Bitar will become the second investigator to be dismissed since the launch of the inquiry. His predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed in February after ex-ministers accused of negligence complained that he was acting out of his jurisdiction.

Last month, Bitar issued the ex-caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, a subpoena after he failed to turn up to his inquiry. However, the secretary general of Lebanon’s parliament told the judge that his order was an excessive use of power.

The blast also caused significant political instability in Lebanon, with Diab resigning from his PM role amid major protests in the days after the explosion. Lebanon has only just announced a new government, headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, which put an end to 13 months of political deadlock.

On the blast’s anniversary, masses marched through Beirut to commemorate the tragedy. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters descended on the streets and burned barricades outside of the Lebanese parliament to demonstrate against the injustice of no senior politicians having yet been held accountable for the disaster.

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