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Lebanese parliament tells judge he can’t subpoena PM Diab over port blast

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The Lebanese parliament on Friday told the judge who is investigating last year’s Beirut port explosion that he had exceeded his powers by issuing a subpoena for caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab after he failed to show up for questioning.

Judge Tarek Bitar, leading the inquiry into the huge explosion, issued requests in July to question Diab and other top officials, including former ministers, who were charged by his predecessor with negligence over the blast.

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All have denied any wrongdoing.

In a letter to the prosecutor, the secretary general of parliament said the subpoena fell outside Bitar’s jurisdiction.

File photo of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
File photo of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.



The explosion on August 4, 2020 was caused by a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate left unsafely at the port for years. It killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and devastated swathes of capital.

Many people in Lebanon are furious that no senior officials have been brought to account.

The inquiry has repeatedly stalled, with the first lead judge removed in February after a court granted the request of two of the former ministers he had charged with negligence for the disaster.

Influential factions have accused Bitar of bias. The powerful Shia group Hezbollah this month accused him of playing politics.

Sunni politicians, including former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, have objected to the investigator’s moves against Diab, saying the post of prime minister -- reserved for a Sunni in the Lebanese sectarian system -- has been singled out.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun with Saad al-Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. (File photo: Reuters)
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun with Saad al-Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. (File photo: Reuters)



In a statement late on Thursday, former prime ministers including Hariri said President Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian head of state, had known about the chemicals at the port and said he had done nothing effective to avoid the blast.

They said immunity should be lifted from Aoun, saying the investigation was being directed from the presidential palace.

Aoun responded on Friday saying the accusations in the statement were unfortunate, especially given that he had already said in July he was willing to testify.

Bitar has not commented on accusations that he is pursuing a political agenda.

After the blast, Aoun said he had been informed about the chemicals and directed the Supreme Defense Council, an umbrella group of security and military agencies chaired by the president, to “do what is necessary.”

He has denied responsibility.

Some MPs have been pressing for the probe into senior officials to be referred to a special council that hears cases against former presidents and ministers. Critics fear this will effectively derail the judicial inquiry.

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