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Beirut explosion: 16 people arrested over Lebanon port blast

Lebanese authorities have arrested 16 individuals as part of an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse explosion that devastated the capital on Tuesday, according to state media.

Judge Fadi Akiki, a government representative at the military court, said authorities had so far questioned more than 18 port and customs officials and individuals responsible for or involved in maintenance work at the warehouse housing highly explosive material that blew up.

“Sixteen people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation,” Mr Akiki is quoted as saying by Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency. He said the investigation was continuing.

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Tuesday’s blast killed at least 137 people and injured about 5,000 others, while dozens are still missing.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun says the explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely in a port warehouse ever since it was confiscated from an impounded cargo ship in 2013.

Lebanon’s central bank has also ordered a freeze on the accounts of the heads of Beirut port and Lebanese customs along with five others, according to a central bank directive seen by Reuters.

The directive, dated 6 August, from the central bank special investigation commission for money laundering and terrorism fighting said the decision would be circulated to all banks and financial institutions in Lebanon, the public prosecutor in the appeals court and the head of the banking authority.

It said the freeze and lifting of banking secrecy would apply to accounts directly or indirectly linked to Beirut Port general manager Hassan Koraytem, Lebanese customs director general Badri Daher and five others, including present and former port and customs officials.

State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered a travel ban on the same seven individuals, a judicial source and local media reported.

While investigators have focused on port officials, many Lebanese citizens claim that government corruption and mismanagement led to the disaster.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron, the first world leader to visit Beirut since the explosion, described it as a “metaphor for Lebanon’s current crisis” and said a “new political order” was needed.

Citizens held anti-government protests to coincide with the visit of Mr Macron, who also promised to help coordinate intentional aid – provided the authorities crack down on corruption.

On Thursday evening, reports emerged of security forces using tear gas to disperse protesters within the city centre.

More to follow

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