UN chief pays tribute to victims of Beirut Port explosion

BEIRUT (AP) — The U.N. chief paid tribute Monday to the victims of last year’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port explosion, expressing solidarity with the families’ quest for justice.

The Aug. 4, 2020 blast has been described as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in the world. It devastated the Lebanese capital, killing at least 216 people and injuring thousands.

Standing under the rain, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is visiting Lebanon, laid a wreath at a memorial bearing the names of the victims at the Beirut Port site of the explosion.

The blast was caused by the detonation of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port for years, apparently with the knowledge of senior politicians and security officials who did nothing about it.

More than 16 months after the government launched a judicial investigation, nearly everything else remains unknown — from who ordered the shipment to why officials ignored repeated warnings of the danger. Families of the victims have been pressing for answers, accusing political parties of obstructing the national investigation.

“I know the suffering and I know the will of the people to know the truth and the will of the people to have proper accountability,” Guterres said in a press statement after meeting with Lebanon’s parliament speaker, Nabih Berri. “I want to express my very deep solidarity to all the victims of that tragedy.”

The local probe, lead by Judge Tarek Bitar, has been facing numerous challenges, including criticism by powerful politicians and lawsuits from defendants who have questioned its fairness.

Disagreements over the judge’s work have paralyzed the government, which has not met since Oct. 12. Lebanon’s powerful militant group Hezbollah and two allied groups have demanded that Bitar be replaced.

Guterres called on Lebanese political leaders to come together to overcome the country’s multiple crises, particularly the economic meltdown that has sank the once middle-income nation into poverty.

Guterres arrived in Lebanon on Sunday for a three-day visit. He said he is here to express solidarity with the Lebanese people and urged the international community to offer more financial assistance to the country in need of humanitarian assistance.

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