BEIRUT (AP) – Beirut witnessed armed clashes Thursday during a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the massive explosion in the city’s port last year.
The mobilization outside the Palace of Justice was called by the powerful group Hezbollah and its allies, who are demanding the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the shooting, but tensions were high along the former front line of the civil war between Shiite and Christian areas. A journalist working for The Associated Press saw a man opening fire with a pistol during the protest. Another witness said he saw people firing at protesters from the balcony of a building.
At least two men were seen with injuries and bleeding. The army was deployed in the area after the shooting.
Hundreds of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate detonated on August 4, 2020 in a port warehouse, killing at least 215 people. The incident also caused thousands of injuries and destroyed parts of nearby neighborhoods. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and exacerbated the problems of the country, already shaken by political divisions and an unprecedented economic collapse.
Bitar, the second judge to lead the complicated investigation, has encountered significant opposition from the powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah and its allies, who accuse him of summoning politicians, mostly allies of the group, for questioning.
At the moment, none of the Hezbollah officials have been officially charged in the 14-month investigation.
The shock could derail the country’s government, which took office a month ago, before it even begins to tackle the economic crisis.
An executive meeting was canceled on Wednesday after Hezbollah demanded urgent government action against the magistrate. A minister allied with the group said he and other members of the government would go on strike if Bitar is not dismissed.