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Protests against public prosecutor Oueidat after Beirut blast probe decisions: Our live coverage

What you need to know

The Public Prosecutor of Lebanon's Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidat ordered Wednesday the release of all 17 suspects detained in connection with the deadly 2020 Beirut port blast.

Judge Oueidat has also issued charges against Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the port blast investigation, for "rebelling against the judiciary." He also slapped a travel ban on Bitar.

Bitar said he won't step down from the probe.

15:28 Beirut Time

Dear readers,

As demonstrators depart from their protest to demand justice for the victims of the Beirut blast, we bring today's live coverage of their sit-in to a close.

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15:14 Beirut Time

According to a judicial source close to the Higher judicial council, the HJC meeting that was scheduled today will not take place. All the judges that came to the Justice palace left its premises around 3 p.m.

15:10 Beirut Time

The majority of protesters have left the Justice Palace premises, according to L'Orient-Le Jour's Lyana Alameddine.

14:47 Beirut Time

The Higher Judicial Council, which was scheduled to meet this afternoon, will not do so while demonstrators and MPs remain in front of the Justice Palace, a judicial source close to the Court of Cassation prosecutor's office told L'Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The HJC meeting will likely not take place Thursday, the source added, though should it convene the members would discuss a possible agreement to replace Judge Bitar. 

14:24 Beirut Time

A Higher Judicial Council meeting initially scheduled for 1 p.m. today still had not begun as of shortly after 2 p.m., a judicial source close to the council told L'Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak with the press.

Asked whether the meeting would still be held today, the source said they did not know.

14:04 Beirut Time

Heavily equipped police officers were deployed inside the Justice Palace Thursday afternoon, in front of the entrance to the office of prosecutor-general Ghassan Oueidat, as angry protesters tried to enter the building, according to a photo published by Reuters.

(Credit: REUTERS/Staff)

13:47 Beirut Time

Prosecutor General at the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidat sent a note, seen by L'Orient Today, to his secretariat, the chief clerk and clerks of the court forbidding them to acknowledge receipt of "decisions, warrants, notifications, letters rogatory and correspondence" or "any document" that would emanate from lead port blast investigating judge Tarek Bitar.

Oueidat's letter appears to concern all such documents, whether they were sent directly by Judge Bitar, or through any other authority. The prosecutor motivated his decision by the fact that Bitar "is divested" of the case of the port, and therefore "he has no standing."

Oueidat also asked recipients of his injunction to notify the Criminal Police, ordering the authorities to draw up a report of any infringements.

Finally, he asked Judicial Inspection for a copy of the complaint he had filed on Tuesday against Judge Bitar. 

13:23 Beirut Time

The police used batons and tear gas against the demonstrators in front of the Justice Ministry, according to our reporter on the ground. At least eight people were injured, including at least one protester in the head, according to our reporter.

(Credit: Mohammad Yassine) 

13:02 Beirut Time

Some demonstrators succeeded in forcing their way into the Justice ministry. According to our reporter, there were heated exchanges with the police on the spot.

(Credit: Joao Sousa)

12:57 Beirut Time

Several opposition MPs present at the sit-in were accosted by bodyguards of caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury during a meeting in his office, protesters at the Justice Palace told L'Orient Today's Lyana Alameddine.

MP Adib Abdelmassih (Koura/Kataeb), who has close ties to Zgharta MP Michel Moawad, appeared to confirm the incident to the media. "I demand the immediate arrest of all the Justice Minister's bodyguards and the resignation of the minister," Abdelmassih told MTV.

On Twitter, MP Waddah Sadek (Forces of Change/Beirut II), part of the protest, also claimed to have been assaulted by Khoury's bodyguards.

At the same time, a group of protesters tried to enter the courthouse by pushing on one of the gates.

(Credit: Lyana Alameddine)

12:20 Beirut Time

"It is as if they are killing us again and again. There are no laws or investigations in Lebanon. Our only hope is the international community," said Mireille Khoury, the mother of Elias Khoury, a teenager killed by the explosion.

(Credit: Joao Sousa/L'Orient Today)

12:19 Beirut Time

A handful of demonstrators are blocking Sami Solh Avenue, near the Palace of Justice, according to our reporter on site Lyana Alameddine.

(Credit: Lyana Alameddine)

12:14 Beirut Time

"I am here in solidarity with the parents of the victims," Maha al-Rassi, a protester, told L'Orient Today's Lyana Alameddine.

"We have to shout loud and clear that there is no justice. The mafia clique won the first round. It is a mafiocracy. I have tears of helplessness, anger, revolt."

12:11 Beirut Time

The head of the security department at the port of Beirut, Ziad al-Awf, traveled to the United States shortly after his Wednesday release from custody, his lawyer Sakhr Hachem confirmed to L'Orient-Le Jour.

More information here.

11:57 Beirut Time

"This palace does not even deserve to be called a courthouse. It is a clique of criminals," said Michel Aouad, grandfather of three-year-old Alexandra Najjar, who was killed in the explosion and who would have celebrated her birthday Thursday. "The crime continues through the judges who are slaves to the politicians," Aouad added.

"Fortunately Alexandra did not see what happened yesterday," he said, referring to the decisions of the prosecutor Oueidat to, among other things, prosecute lead investigating judge Tarek Bitar.

(Credit: Joao Sousa/L'Orient Today)

11:56 Beirut Time

Dolly Roukoz, sister of Joseph Roukoz, one of the victims of the explosion: "They [the officials] had 40 minutes to save us. They did not move."

"They let us die and are not even haunted by the voices of the victims," she told L'Orient Today's Lyana Alameddine, as about 100 protesters gathered outside Beirut's Justice Palace.

"Today I am depressed. I dreamed of my brother yesterday and I saw him sad. As if he knew what was going to happen," she added, in reference to recent decisions by the prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.

11:31 Beirut Time

A view of the protest Thursday morning in front of Beirut's Justice Palace, Jan. 26, 2023. (Credit: Mohammad Yassine/L'Orient Today)

11:26 Beirut Time

Former MP and ex-minister Michel Pharaon on Twitter: "We are in the presence of a plan to break the judge [Bitar] while distorting the image of state institutions, which threatens them with collapse..."

11:24 Beirut Time

Independent Tripoli MP and former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, present at the sit-in: "A camp is trying to establish a criminal state," he warned.

He spoke as about 100 demonstrators gathered in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut.

"We must protect the course of the investigation," Rifi added, speaking to L'Orient Today reporter Lyana Alameddine.

(Credit: Mohammad Yassine)

11:10 Beirut Time

"The decision of Judge Oueidat, it is as if he had killed our children again," the mother of one of the port blast victims, Mohammad Ala'eddine Damaj, told L'Orient Today reporter Lyana Alameddine. "[Those responsible] are criminals with no conscience. I hope they will live what we are suffering," she added.

10:59 Beirut Time

Forces of Change Melhem Khalaf (Beirut II), also present in front of the Justice Palace: "There is a risk that democracy in Lebanon will fall ... We can no longer use religion as a pretext," he added, alluding to letter this week from Prosecutor Oueidat in which he made references to the Quran.

(Credit: Mohammad Yassine)

10:53 Beirut Time

In a statement, the collective of the blast victims' families denounced "the political, security and judicial coup" represented by the decision to prosecute Judge Bitar.

They also called on authorities to assume "full responsibility for the safety of the judge," in a country with a history of political assassinations.

10:48 Beirut Time

Mark Daou, a Forces of Change MP for Aley, who was present in front of the courthouse, said: "It is clear that the public prosecutor is devoid of conscience. He had withdrawn from the investigation and then he decides to release all the detainees, while he himself is being prosecuted in the investigation. It is clear that there is a conspiracy against the families of the victims and justice in Lebanon."

(Credit: Mohammad Yassine)

10:37 Beirut Time

Expected on this day of protest against the decisions of Ghassan Oueidat:

A gathering of victims' families at 11 a.m. in front of the Beirut Justice Palace. Some Forces of Change MPs are expected to join the demonstrators.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Higher Judicial Council is scheduled to be held during the day to discuss the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar, but it is unclear whether the quorum will be reached.

"Neither the president of the HJC, Souheil Abboud, who is in favor of the outcome of the investigation, nor the prosecutor at the Court of Cassation [Oueidat], who has the status of respondent in the port case, would participate in such a meeting," a magistrate told L'Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity as judges are not permitted to speak with the press. Legally composed of 10 members, the HJC currently has only seven.

10:14 Beirut Time

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10:13 Beirut Time

In the latest twist in the saga surrounding the Beirut port blast investigation, Oueidat Wednesday ordered the release of 17 people detained without trial since the August 4, 2020, explosion, according to a document obtained by L'Orient-Le Jour. He also filed a lawsuit against Judge Tarek Bitar, lead investigator of the port blast probe. Bitar has refused to suspend the investigation.

10:13 Beirut Time

Dear readers,

We open this live coverage as series of protests are planed today against the decisions taken Wednesday by Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidate.