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World Digest: July 31, 2022

Part of silos damaged in 2020 blast topples

A section of Beirut’s massive port grain silos, shredded in the 2020 explosion, collapsed in a huge cloud of dust on Sunday after a weeks-long fire, triggered by grains that had fermented and ignited in the summer heat.

The northern block of the silos toppled after what sounded like a blast. It was not clear whether anyone was injured.

The 50-year-old, 157-foot-tall silos had withstood the force of the explosion two years ago, effectively shielding the western part of Beirut from the blast, which killed over 200 people, injured more than 6,000 and badly damaged entire neighborhoods.

In July, a fire broke out in the northern block of the silos because of the fermenting grains. Firefighters and soldiers were unable to put it out, and it smoldered for weeks, releasing a nasty smell that spread widely. The environment and health ministries last week issued instructions to residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.

The silo collapse on Sunday comes just days ahead of the second anniversary of 2020 blast, one of the largest explosions in Lebanon’s troubled history. It occurred less than a year after an uprising rocked the country, with hundreds of thousands protesting entrenched sectarian political parties. The blast also precipitated Lebanon’s economic crisis, costing billions of dollars in damage and destroying thousands of tons of grain.

U.N. peacekeepers kill 2, wound at least 15

U.N. peacekeepers returning from leave opened fire at a border post between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, killing at least two people and wounding at least 15, the U.N. mission and Congolese officials said Sunday.

Tensions between the population in restive eastern Congo and the U.N. peacekeeping force have risen dramatically in the past week, with nearly 20 killed in protests calling for the force to leave the region.

Bintou Keita, head of the U.N. mission in Congo and special representative of the U.N. secretary general, said she was shocked by the shootings in Kasindi, a border town in Congo’s North Kivu province. She said it was not clear why the peacekeepers opened fire.

She said the soldiers’ home country has been contacted so that legal proceedings can begin. Their nationality was not given.

Congo’s government condemned the shootings, confirming a provisional toll of two dead and 15 wounded.

Protesters accuse the peacekeepers of failing to protect civilians amid rising violence. The mission has more than 16,000 uniformed personnel in Congo, according to the United Nations.

Sadr followers camp at parliament for 2nd day

With mattresses strewn about, food trucked in and protesters playacting as lawmakers, hundreds of followers of an influential Shiite cleric were camped out Sunday inside the Iraqi parliament after toppling security walls around the building and storming in the previous day.

The protesters — followers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — pledged to hold an open-ended sit-in to derail efforts by their rivals from Iran-backed political groups to form Iraq’s next government. Their demands are lofty: early elections, constitutional amendments and the ouster of Sadr’s opponents.

The developments have plunged Iraq deeper into a political crisis as a power struggle unfolds between the country’s two major Shiite groups.

Sadr has not visited the scene but has egged his loyalists on, tweeting Sunday that the sit-in was “a great opportunity to radically challenge the political system, the constitution, and the elections.” The Shiite cleric called on all Iraqis to join the “revolution,” an indication that the sit-in is likely to become a drawn-out event.

On Saturday, protesters used ropes and chains to topple concrete walls around the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, then flooded into the assembly building. It was the second such breach last week, but this time they did not disperse peacefully.

The takeover of parliament showed that Sadr was using his large grass-roots following as a pressure tactic against his rivals in the Coordination Framework — an alliance of Shiite parties backed by Iran — after his party was not able to form a government despite having won the largest number of seats in federal elections held in October.

Iranian border guards, Taliban forces reportedly clash: Iranian border guards clashed with the Afghan Taliban, Iranian media reported, the latest cross-border exchange since the Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan a year ago. Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency quoted Iran’s deputy interior minister as saying that the Taliban forces first opened fire on Iranian guards, forcing them to return fire until the exchange subsided about an hour and a half later. Clashes have repeatedly erupted between Iranian security forces and Afghan Taliban forces along the border since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021.

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