Beirut port explosion: What's happened so far in Lebanon's two-year quest for justice?

Beirut port explosion: What's happened so far in Lebanon's two-year quest for justice?
On 4 August 2020, one of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions destroys much of Beirut port and wrecks swathes of Lebanon's capital.
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The Beirut port explosion left the city in a state of shock [Nabeel Yakzan/EyeEm/Getty-archive]

Lebanon marks two years on Thursday since an apocalyptic explosion in Beirut port killed over 220 people, destroyed a large chunk of the city and deepened a painful economic crisis.

AFP looks back at the legal and political battles that have raged ever since.

August 2020 mega-explosion

On 4 August 2020, one of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions destroys much of Beirut port and wrecks swathes of the capital.

The blast was caused by a fire in a warehouse where a vast stockpile of the industrial chemical ammonium nitrate had been haphazardly stored for years, authorities said.

The huge explosion kills more than 220 people dead and injures 7,000, leaving the city in a state of shock.

The tragedy strikes as Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank later calls one of the world's worst financial crises in 150 years.

Macron rushes to Beirut

Two days after the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron visits the ruined Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, where he is greeted by residents sickened by their own political class, seen as corrupt and inept.

Macron calls for an international probe into the disaster, which President Michel Aoun rejects.

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On 8 August, thousands of people demonstrate against Lebanon's leadership.

The next day, a donor conference raises around $300 million in aid for the victims.

The donors insist the money be distributed directly to the Lebanese people, not entrusted to the government.

August to September 2020: wave of resignations

On 10 August, the prime minister, Hassan Diab, resigns amid further demonstrations.

At the end of the month, diplomat Mustapha Adib is named as Lebanon's new premier.

But on 26 September, after weeks of political deadlock, he bows out.

On 22 October, three-time prime minister Saad Hariri is nominated to lead the country again.

He promises to form a government of experts to stop the economic collapse.

Diab stays on as caretaker PM until a new cabinet is formed.

December 2020: PM Diab charged

A week later, the lead investigator into the explosion, Fadi Sawan, charges Diab and three ex-ministers with negligence.

But the probe is soon suspended and a court removes Sawan in February 2021.

July 2021: parliament stalls probe

In July 2021, the new magistrate in charge of the investigation, Tarek Bitar, takes steps towards indicting four former ministers but parliament stalls on lifting their immunity.

On 15 July, Hariri steps down, having been unable to form a government.

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Billionaire Najib Mikati – Lebanon's richest man and already twice premier – manages to form a new government on 10 September, ending a 13-month power vacuum.

October 2021: deadly protests

The new government is shaken by demands from the powerful Shia Muslim group Hezbollah for Bitar, investigating two ex-ministers from a party allied to Hezbollah, to be removed.

Bitar is forced to suspend the probe following a series of court challenges.

Hezbollah and its ally Amal call for demonstrations to demand Bitar's dismissal, accusing him of bias.

Seven people are killed in gun battles during the rally.

December 2021: probe halted again

At the end of 2021, Bitar resumes his investigation but less than two weeks later he is forced to suspend work for a fourth time following more legal challenges.

In April, the International Monetary Fund announces a conditional deal to provide Lebanon with $3 billion in aid over four years.

Chile arrests a Portuguese man wanted in connection with the port blast.

May 2022: voters punish establishment

Hezbollah and its allies lose their outright majority in 15 May parliamentary elections, in which independent candidates make record gains.

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Mikati is tasked with forming a new government.

In July, victims of the Beirut blast file a $250-million lawsuit against US-Norwegian energy services company TGS over its alleged links to the ammonium nitrate that exploded in the port. TGS denies any responsibility.

July 2022: Silos collapse

Parts of Beirut port's huge grain silos, which withstood the explosion, collapse in a huge cloud of dust after a weeks-long fire that broke out when remaining grain stocks fermented and ignited in the summer heat.