At least 1 killed, several injured in gunfire near Beirut protest | Beirut explosion

Gunshots erupt near a Hezbollah-led demonstration calling for the dismissal of the judge investigating the explosion in Beirut.

Beirut, Lebanon – At least one person was killed and several others injured when gunfire erupted near a Hezbollah-led demonstration in Beirut.

Hundreds of black-clad Hezbollah supporters and allies gathered at the Beirut courthouse on Thursday to demand the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, accusing him of being biased and to be an “American slave”.

Gunshots were heard from the roofs of buildings in the neighboring district of Tayyoune, dispersing the angry protesters.

The Lebanese army intervened and arrested one of the shooters. The identity and affiliations of the shooters remain unclear.

At least one person has died and eight others have been injured, a source at the Sahel General Hospital in Beirut told Al Jazeera.

The protest comes two days after Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s most scathing criticism of Bitar to date. Nasrallah accused Bitar of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation.

Hezbollah, Amal supporters chant slogans against Judge Bitar investigating last year’s deadly explosion [Hussein Malla/AP Photo]

Mehieddine Lazkani, a 29-year-old man who lost his father in the blast, said he was dismayed protesters were rallying against Bitar, rather than the country’s rulers, as the Lebanese economy continues to climb sharply.

“It is outrageous in every sense of the word,” Lazkani told Al Jazeera. “The Lebanese pound is at 21,000 to the dollar, there is no electricity or medicine, but they think they should protest and replace Judge Bitar? “

The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value in two years, while an electricity crisis has crippled public life. About three quarters of the population live in poverty, according to the UN. Much of the Lebanese population attributes the crisis to widespread corruption and financial mismanagement by ruling parties and Lebanese banks.

Bitar tried for months to prosecute ex-ministers Ali Hasan Khalil, Ghazi Zeiter, Nouhad Machnouk, Youssef Finianos, as well as former Prime Minister Hasan Diab. Khalil and Zeiter belong to the Amal Movement, a Shiite party led by President Nabih Berri and closely linked to Hezbollah.

The judge also asked to summon the chief of general security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim and the chief of state security, Major General Tony Saliba. However, the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Defense Council did not grant him permission to do so.

Army soldiers stand guard near Justice Ministry ahead of protest against Judge Bitar [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Khalil and Zeiter filed a legal complaint on Tuesday, which forced Bitar to temporarily suspend the investigation moments after issuing an arrest warrant for Khalil. The European Union and the United States Department of State have called for the investigation to resume unimpeded.

More than 200 people were killed and more than 6,500 injured in the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored dangerously in the port for years , exploded.

The explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions on record and the most destructive incident in the troubled history of Lebanon. Entire neighborhoods of the country’s capital have been destroyed.

No official was convicted.

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati continue to publicly support Judge Bitar. Mikati said Lebanon cannot stand the withdrawal of a second judge from the blast probe.

However, ministers belonging to Hezbollah, Amal and some allies have reportedly pressured the Cabinet to take a formal stand against Bitar.

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