21 May 2024

Lebanese protesters stormed several ministries Saturday in apparently planned raids after an explosion blamed on government negligence at Beirut port devastated the city and ignited unprecedented popular rage.

The day started with funerals for some of the 158 people killed by Tuesday’s monster blast but turned to fury when the largest anti-government protest in months escalated.

With security forces focused on a large gathering at the Martyrs’ Square protest hub, a group led by retired army officers snuck into the foreign ministry and declared the building a “headquarters of the revolution”.

The stunt, which marked a new development in the strategy of a protest camp whose October 17 uprising had lost steam lately, was facilitated by the damage the port blast shockwave had inflicted on the building.

But the takeover lasted barely three hours.

Large army reinforcements using rubber bullets and tear gas drove out the roughly 200 protesters, who only had time to chant celebratory slogans against the government and burn a portrait of President Michel Aoun.

At one point, protesters had stormed or taken over four key official buildings.

“We are officially at war with our government,” said activist Hayat Nazer, as tear gas filled the air in downtown Beirut.