Caretaker PM Diab declines questioning in Beirut blast probe, official source says

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Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, has declined to be questioned by a judge who charged him and three former ministers with negligence over the Beirut port blast, an official source said on Monday

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The charges brought by Judge Fadi Sawan last week drew strong criticism from influential parties including the Shiite group Hezbollah and Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri.

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Lebanon's Hezbollah rejects charges against caretaker PM in Beirut explosion

Some politicians have suggested that Sawan was selective in deciding who to charge, and that he overstepped his powers by charging government ministers. Others have said he showed courage.

Diab, who took office in January, has said his conscience is clear over the August 4 blast, which killed 200 people, injured thousands and devasted entire districts. He quit after the disaster but has continued to serve as a caretaker premier.

The explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts on record, was caused by a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely for years.

Sawan contacted Diab’s office last week to request an appointment on Monday but was told that he was declining to be questioned, the official source at the prime minister’s office said. Sawan could not immediately be reached for comment.

The caretaker interior minister, Mohammed Fahmi, said he would not enforce any arrest warrants for Diab or the other officials if they refused to be questioned.

“I would not order the security agencies to implement such a legal decision, and let them pursue me if they wish,” the Lebanese newspaper al-Joumhouria quoted him as saying.

After meeting with Diab on Friday, Hariri pledged not to let anyone violate the post of prime minister -- a seat reserved for a Sunni Muslim in the sectarian power-sharing system.

The three former ministers charged by Sawan are members of parties allied to Hezbollah, which said on Friday the charges smacked of “political targeting.” Two are members of the Shiite Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Lebanon’s senior Christian cleric, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, said on Sunday he hoped reactions to Sawan’s move would not obstruct the probe or cause “a national division on a sectarian basis for which we do not find any justification.”

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