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Lebanon marks 1 year since deadly explosion at Beirut port

Grim anniversary comes amid unprecedented economic and financial troubles

The massive blast that rocked the Lebanese capital, Beirut, a year ago was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in world history.

The massive blast that rocked the Lebanese capital, Beirut, a year ago was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in world history.

Photo: Getty Images / Sam Tarling

RCI

Banks, businesses and government offices were shuttered Wednesday as Lebanon marks one year since the horrific explosion at the port of Beirut.

The grim anniversary comes amid an unprecedented economic and financial meltdown, and a political stalemate that has kept the country without a functioning government for a full year.

The explosion killed at least 214 people according to official records, and injured thousands.

Families of the victims planned a memorial and prayers at the still-wrecked site of the blast at Beirut port later in the day. Mass protests were also expected. A huge metal gavel with the words Act for Justice was placed on a wall opposite the port with its shredded grain silos, near the words My government did this scrawled in black.

Flags flew at half-staff over government institutions and embassies, and even medical labs and COVID-19 vaccination centres were closed to mark the day.

The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history — the result of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire broke out. The explosion tore through the city with such force it caused a tremor across the entire country that was heard and felt as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus more than 200 kilometres away.

It soon emerged in documents that the highly combustible nitrates had been haphazardly stored at the port since 2014 and that multiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.

Citizens stand on their apartment balcony under a giant banner that hangs on a building damaged during last year's seaport explosion during a one year commemoration in Beirut. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)

Citizens stand on their apartment balcony under a giant banner that hangs on a building damaged during last year's seaport explosion during a one year commemoration in Beirut. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)

Photo: Associated Press / Hussein Malla

White roses are seen on portraits of victims of last year's Beirut port blast in the Lebanese capital.

White roses are seen on portraits of victims of last year's Beirut port blast in the Lebanese capital.

Photo: Getty Images / Joseph Eid/AFP

A year later, there has been no accountability, and the investigation has yet to answer questions such as who ordered the shipment of the chemicals and why officials ignored repeated internal warnings of their danger.

The explosion, which destroyed and damaged thousands of homes and businesses, and the lack of accountability, have added to tensions and anguish in a country reeling from multiple other crises, including an economic unraveling so severe it has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the last 150 years.

The crisis has led to a dramatic currency crash and hyperinflation, plunging more than half the country's population below the poverty line.

'Tainted with blood'

In an extensive investigative report about the blast, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for an international probe into the port blast, accusing Lebanese authorities of trying to thwart the investigation. HRW said a lack of judicial independence, constitution-imposed immunity for high-level officials and a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation rendered it incapable of credibly delivering justice.

Since the 1960s we have not seen an official behind bars, said Pierre Gemayel, whose brother Yakoub was killed in his apartment in the explosion last year.

Taking part in a small protest outside the justice palace Wednesday, he said the refusal by the political class to lift immunity from senior officials accused of negligence that led to the blast is proof of their collusion, and that their hands are tainted with blood.

The Associated Press

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