People in Beirut have expressed anger at the government over what they say was negligence that led to Tuesday’s huge explosion.
President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.
Many have accused the authorities of corruption, neglect and mismanagement.
The blast killed at least 135 people and injured more than 4,000 others. A two-week state of emergency has begun.
“Beirut is crying, Beirut is screaming, people are hysterical and people are tired,” filmmaker Jude Chehab told the BBC, calling for the people responsible to face justice.
Chadia Elmeouchi Noun, a Beirut resident currently in hospital, said: “I’ve known all the time that we are led by incompetent people, incompetent government […] But I tell you something – what they have done now is absolutely criminal.”
On Wednesday, the government announced that a number of Beirut port officials were placed under house arrest pending an investigation into the explosion.
The country’s Supreme Defence Council insisted that those found responsible would face the “maximum punishment”.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an independent investigation into the blast. In a statement, HRW said it had “serious concerns about the ability of the Lebanese judiciary to conduct a credible and transparent investigation on its own”.
What triggered the explosion?
The ammonium nitrate – which is used as a fertiliser in agriculture and as an explosive – had reportedly been in a warehouse in Beirut port for six years after it was unloaded from a ship impounded in 2013.
The head of Beirut port and the head of the customs authority both told local media that they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the chemical be exported or sold on to ensure port safety.
Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV they had been aware that the material was dangerous when a court first ordered it stored in the warehouse, “but not to this degree”.
House arrest would apply for all port officials “who have handled the affairs of storing [the] ammonium nitrate, guarding it and handling its paperwork” since June 2014, according to Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad.
The ammonium nitrate arrived on a Moldovan-flagged ship, the Rhosus, which entered Beirut port after suffering technical problems during its voyage from Georgia to Mozambique, according to Shiparrested.com, which deals with shipping-related legal cases.
The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, sparking several legal claims. Its cargo was stored in a port warehouse for safety reasons, the report said.
More on the explosion in Beirut
What is the latest on rescue efforts?
Security forces have sealed off a wide area around the blast site, and rescuers have been looking for bodies and survivors under rubble while boats searched the waters off the coast. Dozens of people are still missing.
Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan said Lebanon’s health sector was short of beds and lacked the equipment necessary to treat the injured and care for patients in critical condition.
See extent of damage at Beirut blast site
5 August 2020
25 January 2020
As many as 300,000 people have been left homeless by the blast, Beirut’s governor Marwan Aboud said.
He told the BBC: “Beirut needs food, Beirut needs clothes, houses, materials to rebuild houses. Beirut needs a place for the refugees, for its people.”
A number of countries have offered humanitarian assistance. Three French planes are due to arrive carrying 55 rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic equipped to treat 500 people.
On Thursday President Emmanuel Macron will become the first world leader to visit the country, a former colony of France, since the tragedy.
The EU, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran and Qatar are all sending relief supplies. The UK is also ready to send medical experts and humanitarian aid, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
- Common industrial chemical used mainly as fertiliser in agriculture
- Also one of the main components in explosives used in mining
- Not explosive on its own, ignites only under the right circumstances
- When it explodes, it can release toxic gases including nitrogen oxides and ammonia gas
- Strict rules on how to store it safely: site has to be fire-proofed, and not have any drains, pipes or other channels in which ammonium nitrate could build up
What’s the background?
The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon. With Covid-19 infections on the rise, hospitals were already struggling to cope. Now, they are faced with treating thousands of injured people.
The country is also going through the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, and tensions were already high with street demonstrations against the government. People have to deal with daily power cuts, a lack of safe drinking water and limited public healthcare.
Lebanon imports most of its food and large quantities of grain stored in the port have been destroyed causing fears of widespread food insecurity to come. The future of the port itself is in doubt due to the destruction caused.
President Aoun announced that the government would release 100 billion lira (£50.5m; $66m) of emergency funds but the impact of the blast on the economy is expected to be long-lasting.
The explosion happened close to the scene of a huge car bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. A verdict in the trial of four men accused of orchestrating the attack was due on Friday at a special court in the Netherlands, but this has been postponed until 18 August out of respect for the victims of Tuesday’s blast.
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: US Supreme Court judge dies of cancer, aged 87
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an iconic champion of women’s rights, has died of cancer at the age of 87, the court has said.
Ginsburg died on Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, DC, surrounded by her family, the statement said.
Earlier this year, Ginsburg said she was undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer.
She was a prominent feminist who became a figurehead for liberals in the US.
Ginsburg was the oldest justice and the second ever woman to sit on the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on Friday. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her – a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
As one of four liberal justices on the court, her health was watched closely. Ginsburg’s death raises the prospect of Republican US President Donald Trump trying to expand its slender conservative majority, even before this November’s election.
In the days before her death, Ginsburg expressed her strong disapproval of such a move. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she wrote in a statement to her granddaughter, according to National Public Radio.
President Trump is expected to nominate a conservative replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible, White House sources told BBC partner CBS News.
Mr Trump reacted to Ginsburg’s death after an election rally in Minnesota, saying: “I didn’t know that. She led an amazing life, what else can you say?”
Later on, Mr Trump said Ginsburg was a “titan of the law” and a “brilliant mind” in a tweeted statement.
Ginsburg had suffered from five bouts of cancer, with the most recent recurrence in early 2020. She had received hospital treatment a number of times in recent years, but returned swiftly to work on each occasion.
In a statement in July, the judge said her treatment for cancer had yielded “positive results”, insisting she would not retire from her role.
“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam,” she said. “I remain fully able to do that.”
Why was Ginsburg important?
US Supreme Court justices serve for life or until they choose to retire, and supporters had expressed concern that a more conservative justice could succeed Ginsburg.
The highest court in the US is often the final word on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions.
In recent years, the court has expanded gay marriage to all 50 states, allowed for President Trump’s travel ban to be put in place and delayed a US plan to cut carbon emissions while appeals went forward.
Ginsburg’s death will spark a political battle over who will succeed her, spurring debate about the future of the Supreme Court ahead of November’s presidential election.
President Trump has appointed two judges since taking office, and the current court is seen to have a 5-4 conservative majority in most cases.
The US Senate has to approve a new judge nominated by the president, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday evening that if a nominee was put forward before the election, there would be a vote on Mr Trump’s choice.
But the Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said: “There is no doubt – let me be clear – that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”
A high-stakes political fight looms
Ginsburg’s death injects a level of unpredictability into a presidential race that had been remarkably stable for months. Now, not only will the White House be at stake in November, but the ideological balance of the Supreme Court could be, as well.
It all depends on what President Trump and the Republicans choose to do next. They could try to fill the seat before the end of the year regardless of who wins the presidency in November, replacing a liberal icon with what in all likelihood will be a reliable conservative vote. Or they could wait and hold the seat vacant, a prize to encourage conservative voters – particularly evangelicals who see an opportunity to roll back abortion rights – to flock to the polls for the president.
Filling the seat would outrage Democrats, who will note that Republicans denied former President Barack Obama the chance to fill the vacant seat in 2016 for months. Waiting, on the other hand, would risk letting Biden name Ginsburg’s replacement in 2021.
All signs point to Republicans trying the former. Concerns of hypocrisy will melt away when a lifetime appointment to the court is in play.
Either way, it sets up a brutal, high-stakes political fight that comes at a time when the nation is already rife with partisan discord and psychological distress.
What is Ginsburg’s legacy?
Over an illustrious legal career spanning six decades, Ginsburg attained unparalleled celebrity status for a jurist in the US, revered by liberals and conservatives alike.
Liberal Americans in particular idolised her for her progressive votes on the most divisive social issues that were referred to the Supreme Court, from abortion rights to same-sex marriages.
Born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1933, Ginsburg studied at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men.
Ginsburg did not receive a single job offer after graduation, despite finishing top of her class. But Ginsburg persisted, working in various jobs in the legal profession throughout the 1960s and far beyond.
In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). That same year, Ginsburg became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School.
In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as part of former President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to diversify federal courts. Though Ginsburg was often portrayed as a liberal firebrand, her days on the appeals court were marked by moderation.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, becoming only the second of four female justices to be confirmed to the court.
Toward the end of her life, Ginsburg became a national icon. Due in part to her withering dissents, Ginsburg was dubbed the Notorious RBG by her army of fans online – a nod to the late rapper The Notorious BIG.
That comparison introduced Ginsburg to a new generation of young feminists, turning her into a cult figure.
What reaction has there been?
Former presidents, veteran politicians and senior jurists were among those to mourn the loss of Ginsburg on Friday. They commended her accolades and hailed her commitment to women’s rights.
Former President Jimmy Carter called her a “truly great woman”, writing in a statement: “A powerful legal mind and a staunch advocate for gender equality, she has been a beacon of justice during her long and remarkable career. I was proud to have appointed her to the US Court of Appeals in 1980.”
Praising her “pursuit of justice and equality”, former President George W Bush said Ginsburg “inspired more than one generation of women and girls”.
Hillary Clinton, a Democrat who ran against President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, said she drew inspiration from Ginsburg.
Conservative politicians also paid their respects to Ginsburg.
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Justice Ginsburg,” Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said on Twitter. “Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer who possessed tremendous passion for her causes. She served with honour and distinction as a member of the Supreme Court.”
Eric Trump, the son of President Trump, said Ginsburg was “a remarkable woman with an astonishing work ethic”. “She was a warrior with true conviction and she has my absolute respect! #RIP,” he wrote on Twitter.
Within hours of the news emerging, hundreds of people had gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC to pay their respects.
The BBC’s Alexandra Ostasiewicz at the scene said the mood was sombre but the crowd occasionally broke into chants of “RBG!” and “Vote him out!”.
Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russia’s opposition activists wonder who might be next
It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.
Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.
Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.
One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid — described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses — at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.
The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.
“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”
Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?
“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.
“I can have as much protection as I like, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I’ve been able to take is to get my family out of the country.”
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either of the attacks on Kara-Murza, though his wife has directly accused the Russian government of bearing responsibility.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks since has hardly been reassuring, given the near-death of a prominent politician.
“Just look at what’s been coming out of Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying no need for Putin to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying no legal grounds for a criminal inquiry; Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin talking instead about an investigation into possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, ceaseless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming anyone but the Russian state.”
As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough of a risk for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is being seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, might have backfired.
“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this may prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who became a thorn in the side of Putin after leading the push for a US sanctions act named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.
Kara-Murza points out that in the very area of Siberia where the campaign office attack took place, Navalny’s allies made gains against Putin’s ruling United Russia in elections this past weekend.
“When Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to demonstrate how sick they are of Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.
Whenever he does return to Russia, the risk both to him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; has this affected the opposition’s morale?
“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “To take the most popular opposition politician and poison him with a deadly nerve agent is intended to scare the less popular ones into submission.”
So, will it work?
Kara-Murza says the Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what we must and come what may. Of course, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not scared.”
And while Akimenko says: “If Russia’s opposition leaders aren’t worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in the face of both personal physical attacks against Navalny and persecution disguised as prosecution.”
The Navalny episode revealed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.
But for those actively involved in that fight, it has merely underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza
“I was poisoned twice,” he said. “Both times I was in [a] coma. Both times doctors told my wife I had 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about safety; it’s about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too much of a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who stand in opposition gave up and ran.”
CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow
Engel subpoenas head of government’s foreign broadcast media agencies
Pack has previously insisted his personnel changes were a routine part of new leadership at a large organization.
A spokesperson for U.S. Agency for Global Media on Friday said Pack couldn’t attend due to a conflict with the original hearing date.
“Michael Pack is disappointed that the Committee has decided to escalate the situation,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Pack is eager to testify before the Committee to talk about the critical work of USAGM and to answer Members’ questions.”
Engel recently subpoenaed the State Department for documents connected to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s investigation of Joe Biden’s relationships in Ukraine, a probe that Democrats say is politically motivated and potentially tainted by Russian disinformation.
Engel is also probing Trump’s decision earlier this year to fire State Department inspector general Steve Linick.
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