Thousands of demonstrators flocked to Martyrs Square in Beirut demanding “revenge” on the ruling class of politicians widely held responsible for the explosion that devastated large parts of the Lebanese capital.
The air was full of tear gas as people filled the main protest area. The demonstrations extended to the surrounding districts and the city’s main highway. This was the largest protest since a nationwide uprising last October.
According to the Lebanese Red Cross, more than 100 people were injured in the protests, including 22 who were taken to hospitals.
The security forces’ response did not seem to disperse many of the angry protesters. A woman who fell over when she stumbled upon people running in her direction said, “They bombed our town. I̵
“You survive an explosion in Beirut only to be gassed tearfully,” said a man in his twenties as he put an onion to his mouth to soften the effects of the gas.
Protesters set up false algae in so-called “Judgment Day” protests as grief gave way to anger after more than 154 people were killed and dozens more went missing. Over 5,000 people were injured.
Portraits of prominent political leaders, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, have been hung from noose in some of the clearest signs of public outrage the country has seen in years.
The demonstrators held signs that read, “This is where the noose should be hung.” The bogus algae has become a key symbol of the demonstrations calling for those responsible for Tuesday’s explosion to be held accountable and against the country’s corruption and mismanagement.
The gallows was erected on the same spot where more than 100 years ago several people were hanged by the then ruling Ottoman Empire for rebellion against Istanbul. The statue of Martyrs’ Square commemorates these executions.
Protesters spent months climbing the walls that sealed Nejmeh Square in Beirut, where the Lebanese parliament stands, and tried to tear down the barricades.
In one video, soldiers were seen hiding in archaeological ruins when protesters threw stones at them.
“We were born and raised with this regime. We believe that it is time to start after the last explosion,” said 18-year-old protester Dana Itani. “These politicians deserve to be hanged here, honestly, they deserve worse.”
Protesters threw stones at riot police near Nejmeh Square.
“I lived the civil war. I was displaced, lived hard days and we already lost houses in the war. We thought that was it,” said Hayat Gharazeddine, 51. “These days are worse than the war, however. They have I have no idea how you could die now, which is the worst thing. “
“I wish I could hang it myself,” she added.
Some protesters occupied a Foreign Ministry building in east Beirut and unfurled a large banner over its severely damaged structure calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese armed group and political party, according to Lebanese television broadcaster LBCi.
One of the protesters declared the building the “headquarters of the revolution” through a megaphone.
Lebanon was already embroiled in an economic collapse before the explosion on Tuesday that wiped out its main port and destroyed grain silos. The international community has already sent emergency medical supplies and food supplies into the country and is providing funds in the tens of millions.
Tuesday’s disaster may also have turned the country’s political crisis to a turning point. Since a popular uprising in October toppled former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, public resentment against the ruling political class has been widespread, fueling what is one of the worst financial crises the country has ever seen.
Five MPs resigned in protest, in addition to some high profile official resignations. Authorities arrested 16 people in connection with the explosion, including the director general of Lebanese Customs, Badri Wollen, the head of the port of Beirut, Hasan Kraytem and the former customs director of Chafic Merei.
CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh and Tariq Keblaoui contributed to this report.