The French government has called on Lebanese authorities to ensure the country’s judiciary is able to conduct its probe into the 2020 Beirut port blast disaster in an independent and impartial manner.
The statement from France’s Foreign Affairs Ministry comes after a Lebanese court dismissed an attempt to remove the judge tasked with investigating last year’s devastating port explosion after he had issued an arrest warrant for an MP who refused to cooperate with the probe.
Judge Tarek Bitar was forced to put his inquiry on hold for the past few days after he attempted to issue an arrest warrant against MP and former cabinet minister Ali Hassan Khalil.
Lebanon’s Court of Cassation rejected a lawsuit against the judge on Thursday, stating that it has no authority to dismiss Bitar from his role, marking the second time the judiciary has rejected attempts to undermine his investigation.
Violence broke out in Lebanon following the decision to rule in favor of Bitar, preventing his removal, with gunfire heard in Beirut after protesters led by Hezbollah and Amal groups gathered in support of lawmakers opposed to the judge’s recent actions. Five people have been reported dead and 20 injured in the fray, as the army deployed troops and armored vehicles.
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Bitar is the second judge to head the probe after the previous lead, Judge Fadi Sawan, was removed after he sought to indict former ministers Khalil and Ghazi Zeiter for negligence over the port blast.
On August 4, 2020, an enormous explosion which originated at a warehouse in the Port of Beirut caused major destruction across the Lebanese capital, killing more than 200 and injuring many hundreds more. Public outrage over the circumstances of the blast led to the resignation of the government over its handling of the situation and allegations of negligence regarding the storage of the explosive material – a seized shipment of ammonium nitrate improperly stored.
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