BEIRUT– Lebanese Army troops forcibly prevented relatives of the victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 port blast from gathering for a protest outside the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) on Friday, where President Michel Aoun was attending an Easter Good Friday service, according to one of the protest leaders, who said the troops also assaulted some of the demonstrators.
Here’s what we know:
William Noun, whose brother Joe was one of the firefighters killed in the explosion, told L’Orient Today that the protest was organized in response to the cabinet’s decision Thursday to move forward with the controversial demolition of the damaged grain silos at the Port of Beirut.
The protesters were initially heading toward USEK in the town of Kaslik north of Beirut, Noun said, when they were stopped by army troops near the Jounieh municipality who insisted on detaining the group until the Easter Good Friday service attended by Aoun and other politicians had come to an end.
Noun added that when the protest group, which numbered about 35 people, tried to leave after the service at USEK had ended, the army troops said there was an arrest warrant out for one of the demonstrators and detained them further, sparking an altercation.
A video circulated on social media of the incident showed soldiers arguing with the relatives of the port explosion victims. Noun said he and others were pistol-whipped and forced into an army truck before they were released at the intervention of their lawyer.
When contacted by L’Orient Today, a Lebanese Army spokesperson declined to comment on the incident.
On Thursday, Noun and other relatives of the victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion held a protest in front of the grain silos, which have gained symbolic importance as one of the most visible reminders of the devastating blast that killed over 200 people. The government had decided in a session earlier that day, chaired by Aoun, to go ahead with the silos demolition.
Relatives have voiced opposition to the silos demolition, arguing such a step would represent authorities’ attempt to wipe out the memory of the explosion.
Noun told L’Orient Today that the demonstration on Friday was also against bureaucratic measures holding up Judge Tarek Bitar’s investigation into the explosion. The investigating judge’s probe has been held up by numerous lawsuits by political figures and officials facing charges over the explosion, among other roadblocks confronting the case.