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Lebanese firefighters douse remains of Beirut port fire

BEIRUT, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Lebanese firefighters and army helicopters on Friday put out the remains of a huge fire at Beirut’s port that had flared up a day earlier, barely a month after a massive blast devastated the port and surrounding area.

Thursday’s fire, which officials said was sparked by welding during repair work after last month’s explosion, covered several districts of Beirut in a huge cloud of black, acrid smoke, causing panic in a city still on edge after the blast.

The Aug. 4 port blast exacerbated challenges in a nation that is grappling with a deep economic crisis and facing the biggest threat to its stability since a 1975-1990 civil war.

“Yesterday, just seeing this smoke made me feel there is no hope,” said Karim Massoud, 33, speaking in a residential area near the blaze that was also hit hard by the explosion.

The civil defence said in a statement that firefighters had extinguished the flames on Friday morning after working through the night, and were cooling the site to prevent it reigniting.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said at a meeting of the Supreme Defence Council on Thursday night that the fire could have been caused by sabotage, technical error or negligence. He called for a swift investigation.

Many Lebanese are frustrated that they have yet to be told about any initial findings from a probe into last month’s explosion that killed about 190 people and injured 6,000.

The government resigned after the port blast, and Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib is racing to form a new cabinet by early next week to meet a two-week deadline agreed under French pressure. Forming a government in Lebanon usually takes months.