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Lebanese people in Germany want justice after Beirut blast

  • August 12, 2020

Ramzi Merhej had just finished working from home in Berlin on August 4 and was about to go out to play basketball when he checked his Facebook page and saw that a friend was livestreaming from Beirut. “This friend lives in Mar Mikhael, right next to the port,” he said. “She was live on her phone. I saw that her hands were full of blood. I saw her destroyed building. She screamed and then the connection went dead.” 

Merhej has lived in Germany since 2015, but all of is family is in Lebanon. Some of his relatives are in the Chouf Mountains, but most live in the center of Beirut. As social media filled with pictures and videos of the explosion and the mushroom cloud that it caused, he made frantic calls to find out if his family was OK. After 30 minutes of panic, he found out that his parents and sister were safe. 

Later, he learned that a friend of his who worked near the port had died. The death toll is now more than 200 people. A friend’s father is still missing. 

The government submitted its resignation after days of protests followed the explosion

Merhej said he hadn’t been able to sleep since the explosion. “I’m used to explosions and attacks in Beirut, but usually they affect one neighborhood or street,” he said. “You find out quickly who was hit. This time, it’s different. I still haven’t really understood what happened this time.” 

Read more: Condolences and aid pour in for Lebanon after deadly blast

‘Everyone means everyone’

While his sister and friends went out onto the streets of Beirut to help clear the rubble and join protests against the government, Merhej and his friends went to the Lebanese Embassy in Berlin to demonstrate on Monday. Waving flags bearing the national symbol, the green cedar, and listening to music by the Lebanese singer Fairuz, they chanted “Kilon yani kilon” (“Everyone means everyone”) and called for the entire political class to resign. Protesters began chanting these now-famous words in October.

Merhej regrets not being back in Lebanon. “I wish I could help people on the street, those who are being hit, shot and attacked by the police and the army,” he said. But he added that he could also help from Berlin: “That’s why I wanted to organize this protest in front of the Lebanese Embassy. It’s the least I can do to try to exert pressure on the system and its representatives.” 

Read more: Lebanon’s worst enemy is its own government, a DW editor writes

On Monday, after several Cabinet ministers had resigned over the weekend, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that the entire government would step down. For now, however, the administration remains in office in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed. 

Protesters were not appeased by Diab’s announcement and said they would not rest until President Michel Aoun had stepped down and Parliament had been dissolved. “The government’s resignation doesn’t mean a thing,” Merhej said. “Unless the president of the republic and the president of the Parliament step down, there will be no hope for Lebanon.

“Governments will come and go, but the system will not change,” Merhej said. “We have to force people to take responsibility for what they have done.”

Merhej, pictured at Beirut’s port in better times, said he wanted to protest in Lebanon

Funds pour in

On Sunday, representatives at a conference of international donors pledged €200 million ($236 billion) in emergency aid to Lebanon. Twenty million euros will come from Germany, which had already pledged €10 million via the German Red Cross soon after the blast. 

But many protesters in front of the embassy on Monday said the aid should not go to the government.  “It is known that corruption has no limits,” said Eddy Rizk, who has lived in Germany for over 20 years. “The money will vanish and only further enrich the already-wealthy elites.”

International representatives at the conference said the aid would be tied to reforms and called for an independent investigation into the explosion. En route to Beirut Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Lebanon needed a “strong new start and radical economic reforms.” He said this was the only way that the youth would develop trust in the country’s political establishment. 

“I really hope that Heiko Maas will go through with this and not give a cent to the Lebanese government before the protesters’ demands are met,” Merhej said. “These people have to be held accountable for the disaster,” he added. “It’s a crime against humanity.”  

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Panic in Beirut

    Two immense blasts shook Beirut and the surrounding areas of the Lebanese capital, prompting panic as residents rushed to safety. “I have never in my life seen a disaster this big,” Beirut’s governor told local TV.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Blasts felt in city’s outskirts

    The explosions, centered in Beirut’s port region, were felt throughout the capital. Even residents in the city’s outskirts reported hearing the blast, with some saying their windows were shattered.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Dozens killed, thousands injured

    Lebanon’s Health Ministry said at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 others were injured.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    ‘Unacceptable’ ammonium nitrate stock

    Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that a large stockpile of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse at the port had caused the second, larger explosion. “It is unacceptable that a shipment of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate has been present for six years in a warehouse, without taking preventive measures,” Diab said.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Race to save survivors

    More than 30 Red Cross teams raced to the scene, with many locals lending a hand to aid rescue efforts. Hospitals warned that they were quickly filled beyond capacity — and called for blood donations as well as generators to help keep the electricity on.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Felt as far away as Cyprus

    The blasts struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences center GFZ. Residents in Cyprus, some 110 miles (180 km) across the sea from Beirut, reported hearing and feeling the blast.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    People are ‘asking for their loved ones’

    DW’s Bassel Aridi said people were using social media to try to track down their loved ones after the explosions. Aridi also visited a hospital in Beirut after the blasts. “What I saw in the hospital was so dramatic. All the hospitals have announced that they are totally overloaded.”

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Two-week state of emergency

    Lebanese authorities fear many more people are buried beneath rubble. President Michel Aoun scheduled an emergency Cabinet meeting for Wednesday and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Lebanon faces double-blow

    The devastating blasts come as Lebanon experiences severe economic turbulence, with many people taking to the streets in recent months to protest the financial situation. Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared that Wednesday would be a national day of mourning for the victims of the explosion.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    Protesters demand reforms and resignations

    Thousands of protesters took to the streets four days after the explosion, blaming the blast on government corruption and mismanagement boiling. Protesters demanded government resignations and fresh elections, with many occupying government ministries. Police responded with tear gas.

  • In pictures: Beirut blast aftermath — destruction, chaos and protests

    First resignation

    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad became the first government minister to resign in the wake of the blast, five days after it took place. “After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government,” she said in a statement carried by local media. She apologized to the people of Beirut for failing them.

    Author: Darko Janjevic

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