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BEIRUT: Tires were set on fire outside the Beiruts Palais de Justice on Friday to protest the departure of a judge investigating the deadly blast that struck the city port last year.

Judge Tareq Bitar stepped down after ousting Judge Fadi Sawan from the case, following a complaint by two former ministers accused of negligence in connection with the blast.

More than 200 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured in the August 4 blast.

The families of the victims have protested in the Lebanese capital after the Court of Cassation ousted Judge Fadi Sawan from the case.

The families described the court ruling as a re-murder of the victims and sought to know the reason for his departure, vowing to go to the homes of politicians to find out the truth.

They feared the investigation was being politicized. Sawan had summoned some of the countries’ leading figures including Prime Minister Hassan Diab, current and former ministers and former administrative and security officials.

Protesters held pictures of the victims, their banners carried the words: Remember, judge, justice is the basis of order.

The mother of one of the victims said: We have returned to the starting point of the investigation and we will not follow the investigation from our homes, but from the street. Why do politicians want to suppress the truth?

Another victim’s wife said she believed Sawan had been excluded from the case because he had requested that high-ranking officials be questioned. Were the officials afraid that it would be their turn? she asked. You (politicians) have robbed us of everything beautiful, and we are demanding the minimum of our rights, which is justice.

The High Judicial Council decided to have open meetings after Interim Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm proposed a judge to take over from Sawan.

His replacement is Judge Tarek Bitar, according to judicial sources.

The head of the High Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, met with a delegation of victims’ families in a bid to quell their anger.

After the meeting, Ibrahim Hotei on behalf of the families said: We have demanded the swift appointment of a new judge who has courage and integrity. We also demanded that the issue not be politicized. He promised us well and we trust him.

He insisted that the judiciary act under pressure because we will stand in the way.

Activists joined the protesting families, saying they considered the decision to fire Sawan an absolutely political decision.

Former Achrafieh minister and MP Michel Pharaon said: What happened to Judge Sawan was a blow to the investigation process that could have been avoided through treatment and correction. We are ashamed of the republic that shamelessly seeks to hide facts at the expense of the dead bodies of its people.

The Lebanese Forces Party called for an international fact-finding commission to investigate the port explosion.

Party leader Samir Geagea said: “What we expected happened and Judge Sawan was removed after obstacles were put in his way. No one can convince us that the local investigation will yield serious results, so there is no hope in the ruling group.

The Kataeb (Phalange) party said last September it had submitted a review to the UN for an international investigation into the port explosion. The party will work on another path, which is to restore the independence of the Lebanese judiciary by getting rid of the ruling authority, she added.

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