By Weedah Hamzah
Beirut – Thousands of Lebanese on Saturday mourned the victims of the Beirut port blast with anger and protests, amid reports of clashes with police as demonstrators called for the removal of what they described as “corrupt politicians.”
At least 130 people have been injured in clashes in Beirut between police and protesters, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.
Eyewitnesses said shots were heard near the parliament building.
“Twenty-eight people have been transported to nearby hospitals, while 102 others are being treated at the scene,” it said in a tweet.
Angry protesters meanwhile stormed the Foreign Ministry building in Beirut and tore down pictures of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, the Lebanese privately owned television MTV reported.
The demonstrators raised a huge placard at the entrance of the ministry reading, “Beirut is the capital of revolution,” according to the broadcaster.
Police have also responded with tear gas to disperse the protesters, who were also chanting angry slogans against the ruling class.
Crowds packed the roads leading to the city’s central Martyr Square, banging on the iron fences on the sidewalks in a demonstration of their fury.
A call to join a march from ground zero of the blast site towards the square in Beirut’s central district asked participants to wear black in a sign of mourning for the victims of Tuesday’s blast.
“We want to vent our anger against the ruling class, who knew about the dangerous substance stored inside Beirut port and did nothing,” Roula Ajouz, a participant in the march, told dpa near the blast site.
On Tuesday, a huge explosion ripped through Beirut’s port, killing at least 158 people, wounding 6,000, displacing some 250,000 to 300,000 from their homes and inflicting massive destruction across the city.
A Lebanese Health Ministry official said on Saturday that 25 bodies whose identities remain unknown have been recovered from under the debris of the blast.
The official told dpa that 45 people are still missing in the wake of the explosion that rocked Beirut. The search is still ongoing.
The blast was caused in a warehouse housing some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, according to Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
The dangerous material had been stored there for years.
“People are enraged, people want justice for this negligence,” said Pierre Adra, a protester.
“This will be a day of anger and sadness,” said Lina Boubis, one of the organizers. Initially, the organizers were planning for a mass funeral, but for logistical reasons, the idea was cancelled.
The organizers are mainly members of NGOs and protesters who have been demanding reforms and accusing Lebanese politicians of corruption since the October 17 demonstration erupted in the country.
Lawmaker Sami Gemayel, head of the Christian Kataeb Party, announced the resignation of his three-member party from the 128-seat parliament in protest against the lack of government performance.
Nadim Gemayel, son of the late Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel, also announced his resignation, as well as independent Armenian lawmaker Paula Yakoubian.
On Friday, a Lebanese judge ordered the detention of three main port officials in connection with the ongoing investigation with the Beirut port blast.
Arab and foreign officials arrived in Beirut on Saturday to show solidarity with Lebanon. Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Aboul Gheit met with Aoun, Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
“Arab support for Lebanon is there, and solidarity is the only way to rescue,” he told reporters upon his arrival in Beirut.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also met with Lebanese leaders, and told a press conference that Turkey had offered more support with food and medical aid.
Ankara could help reconstruct Beirut port and the buildings damaged by the explosion, Oktay said, adding that Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Mersin is available for use until Beirut port is back in service.
Turkey had sent a military plane on Thursday to Lebanon with a search-and-rescue team onboard as well as medical aid personnel.
The Syrian Embassy announced Saturday that 54 Syrians were among the victims of the Beirut blast.
European Council President Charles Michel, who arrived in Beirut on Saturday, called for an independent inquiry into the cause of the catastrophe and offered European expertise.
Promising European support, Michel said that 33 million euros (38.9 million dollars) for emergency needs had already been mobilized by the bloc for Lebanon, along with more than 250 rescue workers.
French President Emmanuel Macron plans to hold an international video conference on Sunday to raise funding for Lebanon, according to people close to the presidential office.
The UN is a co-organizer of the conference, which seeks to help the people of Beirut. It is due to begin at 2 pm (1200 GMT), sources say.
US President Donald Trump plans to speak with Macron on Sunday, the US leader tweeted, as well as with leaders from Lebanon and other countries.