Clashes in Beirut, Lebanese PM Diab proposes early election

Security forces fired tear gas and clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators on Saturday in Beirut, and a group of protesters stormed the foreign ministry amid mounting fury over this week’s explosion, news wires reported.

Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses at Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for Tuesday’s blast, which devastated much of the city and killed nearly 160 people. Dozens were still missing and nearly 6,000 people injured. The explosion caused an estimated $10bn to 15bn in damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also damaged 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

The disaster has taken popular anger to a new level in a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and near bankruptcy.

“Resignation or hang,” read a banner held by protesters, who also planned to hold a symbolic funeral for the dead. Some nooses were also set up along the bridges outside the Port.

In a televised speech on Saturday evening, PM Hassan Diab said the only solution was to hold early elections, which he planned to propose in a draft bill. He called on all political parties to put aside their disagreements and said he was prepared to stay in the post for two months to allow time for politicians to work on structural reforms.

The offer is unlikely to soothe the escalating fury on the street. At least 142 people were hurt in the clashes on Saturday. In a show of anger, the president of the Christian opposition Kataeb party said its three legislators have decided to resign from Parliament over the disaster. A senior Kataeb party official was killed in the blast. 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 the wife of the Netherlands’ ambassador to Lebanon, had also died from injuries suffered in the explosion.

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