Thousands of demonstrators poured into Beirut’s Martyr’s Square calling for “revenge” against the ruling class of politicians widely held responsible for the explosion that lay waste to large swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The demonstrators erected mock gallows in what were dubbed “Judgment Day” protests, as grief gave way to anger after more than 154 people were killed and dozens more remain missing. Over 5,000 people have been injured.
Protesters also held signs reading, “Here is where the nooses should be hung.” The mock gallows have become a key symbol of the demonstrations, which are demanding that those responsible for the Tuesday’s blast are held accountable, as well as against corruption and mismanagement of the country.
The gallows were erected in the same place where several people were hanged more than 100 years ago by the then ruling Ottoman Empire for revolting against Istanbul. The Martyr’s Square statue commemorates those executions.
“We were born and raised with this regime in place — we believe it’s time for it to go especially after the last explosion,” said 18-year-old protester Dana Itani. “These politicians deserve to be hanged here, they deserve even worse honestly.”
Protesters threw stones at riot police near Najmeh Square, where the country’s parliament is located.
“I lived the civil war. I was displaced, lived harsh days and we already lost houses in the war. We thought that was it,” said Hayat Gharazeddine, 51. “These days however are worse than war. You have no idea how you might die now, which is the most scariest thing.”
“I wish I could hang them myself,” she added.
Lebanon was already embroiled in an economic meltdown prior to Tuesday’s blast which obliterated its main port, destroying grain silos. The international community has already sent emergency medical and food supplies to the country and are pledging tens of millions of dollars in funds.
Tuesday’s disaster may have also brought the country’s political crisis to a tipping point. Since a popular uprising in October toppled the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, public disgruntlement against the ruling political class has been rampant, accelerating a financial crisis that is one of the worst the country has ever seen.
Five members of parliament have resigned in protest, in addition to some high-profile official resignations. Authorities have detained 16 people in connection with the blast, including Director General of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, the head of Beirut Port, Hasan Kraytem and the former head of customs Chafic Merei.