Families of Beirut blast victims want officials prosecuted

BEIRUT — Families of the victims of last year’s massive blast at Beirut’s port protested in the capital on Friday to pressure parliament to lift immunity on three legislators as requested by the judge leading the investigation into the explosion.

One of the protests took place near the residency of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, where the legislature’s justice committee was meeting over the immunity request. Lebanese troops pushed the protesters back from the tightly-secured building.

Many Lebanese blame the country’s ruling elites for negligence that led to the port explosion.

“You blew up Beirut and put people in coffins,” read a banner carried by one of the protesters.

According to the deputy parliament speaker, Elie Ferzli, the committee decided to first request from the judge to review the evidence against the three before deciding on the immunity.

Last week, Judge Tarek Bitar announced he intends to pursue senior politicians and former and current security chiefs in the case, and requested permission for their prosecution.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4, killing 211 people, injuring more than 6,000 and devastating nearby neighborhoods.

“Shame on them. They are bringing riot police to face the families of martyrs,” shouted Ibrahim Hoteit, whose brother of Tharwat Hoteit was killed in the blast.

Last Friday, Bitar asked the government and the interior ministry for permission to question two of Lebanon’s most prominent security chiefs, including the head of General Security Directorate, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.

Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi reportedly rejected the request on Friday. Ibrahim issued a statement saying he abides by the law but that someone is trying to tarnish his image.

Family members of the victims later Friday also held a rally outside the Interior Ministry, to protest Fehmi’s decision.