At least six killed in Beirut during anti-corruption protests

At least six killed in Beirut during anti-corruption protests

A damaged vehicle is pictured as soldiers are deployed after gunfire erupted in Beirut on 14 October 2021. REUTERS Aziz Taher: What is Aziz Taher?

A total of six people were murdered Thursday by demonstrations in Beirut over a probe into the earthquake at Moordi which occurred in 2008.

The latest bloodshed adds to the woes of a nation that is having one of the worst economic meltdowns ever.

Thursday's shooting erupted as protesters headed toward a demonstration called by Amal and its ally Hezbollah to demand the removal of the judge investigating the port blast.

Political tensions have been building over the probe into the explosion that killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.

The judge has sought to question a number of senior politicians and security officials, including Hezbollah allies, suspected of negligence that led to the explosion, which was caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate.

The crisis over the probe is rooted in one of Lebanon's main problems: civil politics that have divided Lebanese and fuelled sectarian conflict since independence. Shi'ites and Christians have lined up on opposite sides of this standoff.

Some of the most prominent suspects sought for questioning on suspicion of negligence are Shi'ite allies of the heavily armed, Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.

An hailed investigator issued an arrest warrant for one of them this week, Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister who is the right-hand man of Hezbollah Speaker Tarek Bitar, a Shi'ite ally.

Bitar has also sought non-Shi'i officials to question Bitar officials. These include the senior Christian prime minister Hassan Diab, a Sunni, a former general, and a Sunni politician, Youssef Fenianous, a Hezbollah ally.

While hitting fierce Shi'ite pushback, the probe has enjoyed broad Christian backing even from Hezbollah's most important Christian ally Michel Aoun. This has created friction between Hezbollah and Aoun, political sources say.

The issue is sensitive for Christian parties partly because, while the port blast killed many Muslim people, the bulk of the physical damage was in predominantly Christian areas.

The latest bloodshed takes place against the backdrop of one of the world's sharpest economic depressions which spiraled in 2019 from the meltdown of its financial system.

The collapse, which has driven about three quarters of Lebanese to poverty and sunk the currency by 90%, was caused by decades of financial mismanagement and corruption by the sectarian elite.

The new government of prime minister Najib Mikati has vowed to revive negotiations with the IMF to secure a rescue package.

But Lebanon must first disagree on the size of great losses in the financial system and how they should be shared out - something the government, banks and central bank failed to do last year.

In the meantime, Lebanon's collapse is driving ever more people to emigrate, in a cognitive deficit across the sectarian spectrum which economists say will set back Lebanon for years.

Lebanon's web of foreign rivalries are complicated by sectarian interest.

The power balance of Lebanon was tilting in favour Hezbollah and its allies for years, and away from factions that aligned themselves with Sunni-led governments and arab Gulf states largely giving up their Lebanese allies.

Hezbollah, which was founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and has become more powerful than the state, views the probe as part of a U.S. backed campaign to chip away at its influence and has accused Washington of meddling in the investigation to serve its anti-Hezbollah agenda.

Washington, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, condemned this week what it called the group's intimidation of the judiciary. France has also stood by the probe, saying it must take place in impartial manner.

While Saudi Arabia has turned away from its old Sunni Muslim Lebanese ally Saad al-Hariri, it has good ties with militia commander Samir Geagea.