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Lebanese court demands that the main investigator of the port explosion be withdrawn

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BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanon’s highest court on Thursday asked the chief prosecutor investigating the massive Beirut port bombing to leave, following legal challenges by senior officials he had accused of negligence that led to the blast, a judicial official and news country officials said the agency.

The Court of Cassation called for a new investigating judge to be appointed to lead the investigation, almost six months after it had begun.

The development is likely to further delay the investigation into the horrific blast that killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000 and disfigured much of Beirut.

The blast, one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history, has been one of the most traumatic national experiences the Lebanese have faced. Family members of those killed had been skeptical of a transparent and independent investigation into the August 4 blast, in a country where the culture of impunity has prevailed for decades.

The chief prosecutor, Judge Fadi Sawwan, had charged and summoned to question Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister and three former ministers on suspicion of negligence that led to the deadly blast.

Two of the former ministers challenged Sawwan in court in December, accusing him of violating legal and constitutional procedures and demanding that he be expelled. Last month, the Court of Cassation asked Sawwan to resume his work while reviewing the appeals.

On Wednesday, he summoned the third former minister for questioning. The minister wrote on Twitter that he would not appear.

Details of the court decision were not made public. A court official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the attorney general’s office had received a copy of the decision. The official said all calls have now been stopped since Sawwan was asked to withdraw.

By law, the justice minister must now nominate a new chief investigator, before a government-designated judicial body can sign the nomination.

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