A police officer has died and almost 200 hundred people have been injured in anti-government protests following a devastating explosion in Beirut.
The violence unfolded on the eve of an international conference co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres aimed at bringing donors together to raise funds to support the reconstruction of the Lebanese capital.
Riot police fired tear gas after thousands of people gathered in the central Martyrs’ Square.
Initially, demonstrators tried to break through a barrier to access the parliament building, before going on to storm several government ministries.
In the foreign ministry, they burned a framed portrait of President Michel Aoun.
“We are staying here. We call on the Lebanese people to occupy all the ministries,” one protester said through a megaphone.
Almost 120 people were treated for injuries on the scene while a further 55 were taken to hospital, the Red Cross said.
The officer died after falling down an elevator shaft in a nearby building while being chased.
“The people want the fall of the regime,” protesters chanted, adding: “Leave, you are all killers.”
Makeshift gallows and nooses have been set up.
Sky News correspondent Alex Rossi, who is there, said residents have been “enormously angry” since the explosion happened, adding: “People here want to – metaphorically at least – hang their political class.”
After the protests had begun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the only way out of the crisis is via early parliamentary elections.
Student Celine Dibo, speaking as she scrubbed blood off the walls of her shattered apartment block, said there was “no trust” in the government, adding: “I wish the United Nations would take over Lebanon.”
Rossi said there was a “huge amount of structural damage to the buildings” in Martyrs’ Square and hardly any windows have glass in them.
Psychologist Maryse Hayek said the Lebanese people are “living in ground zero”.
“I hope another country would just take us over. Our leaders are a bunch of corrupt people,” he said.
One of the demonstrators, Rose Sirour, said: “We want a future with dignity – we don’t want the blood of the victims of the explosion wasted.”
The number of dead has risen to 158, the Lebanese health ministry said. At least 6,000 have been injured, while 21 people remain missing.
The Kataeb Party, a Christian group that opposes the current Hezbollah-backed government, said on Saturday that its three members of parliament were standing down.
“I invite all honourable (members) to resign so that the people can decide who will govern them, without anybody imposing anything on them,” said leader Samy Gemayel.
Earlier, President Aoun revealed he knew about the huge stockpile of explosives at Beirut’s port almost three weeks before they blew up.
The ammonium nitrate had been there since 2013 after being confiscated from an impounded cargo ship.
Mr Aoun was told about the 2,750 tonnes of material on 20 July, and claims he subsequently ordered officials to “do what is needed”.
But he said he had “no authority to deal directly with the port” and did not know “where it was placed”.
Documents show Lebanese authorities in customs, the military, security and the judiciary raised the alarm 10 times in the seven years the explosives were there.
Investigators have ordered the detention of the head of the port, Hassan Koraytem, the country’s customs chief, Badri Daher, and his predecessor.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Mr Aoun that the UK will “stand by the country in its hour of need”.