Lebanon, mired in crises, celebrates 1 year since the horrific explosion in Beirut

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BEIRUT – Banks, businesses and government offices were closed on Wednesday as Lebanon marks a year since the horrific explosion in the port of Beirut.

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

According to official records, the explosion left at least 214 dead and thousands injured.

The families of the victims have planned a memorial and prayers at the still destroyed site of the explosion at the port of Beirut later in the day. Mass protests were also expected. A huge metal hammer with the words “Act for Justice” was placed on a wall in front of the harbor with its shredded grain silos, near the words “My government did this” scrawled in black.

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Flags flew at half mast above government institutions and embassies, and even medical laboratories and COVID-19 vaccination centers were closed to mark the day.

The explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history – the result of igniting hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate after a fire started. The explosion passed through the city with such force that it caused a nationwide shake that was heard and felt as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, more than 200 kilometers (180 miles) away.

Destroyed buildings are seen from a heavily damaged room in an area near the site of last year's explosion that hit Lebanon's Beirut seaport on August 12, 2020 (Associated Press)
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Destroyed buildings are seen from a heavily damaged room in an area near the site of last year’s explosion that hit Lebanon’s Beirut seaport on August 12, 2020 (Associated Press)

It quickly emerged in documents that the highly combustible nitrates had been stored haphazardly in the port since 2014 and that several high-level officials over the years were aware of its presence and did nothing.

A year later, there has been no accountability and the investigation has yet to answer questions such as who ordered the chemicals to be shipped and why authorities have ignored repeated internal warnings of their danger. . In a detailed investigation report into the blast, Human Rights Watch called for an international investigation on Tuesday, accusing Lebanese authorities of trying to derail the investigation.

HRW said a lack of judicial independence, constitutionally mandated immunity for senior officials and a series of procedural and systemic flaws in the national investigation have rendered it “incapable of delivering justice credibly.”

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The explosion, which destroyed and damaged thousands of homes and businesses, and the lack of accountability, added to tensions and angst in a country beset by several other crises, including an economic dismantling so severe that ‘it has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the past 150 years.

The crisis resulted in a dramatic currency crash and hyperinflation, plunging more than half of the country’s population below the poverty line.

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