To parents of toddler killed in Beirut blast, Lebanon's vote 'means everything'

BEIRUT, May 15 (Reuters) - Their index fingers stained with purple ink, Paul and Tracy Naggear emerged solemnly on Sunday from a polling station in the Lebanese capital – less than 2 km (1 mile) from where their daughter was killed in a chemical blast less than two years ago.

The couple just voted in parliamentary elections, the first since the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people, including their three-year-old daughter Alexandra, nicknamed Lexou.

Many blame the disaster on safety failings by top political and security officials. Some candidates have sought to make accountability for the blast - investigations into which have stalled - a main campaign issue.

"This moment means everything for me and Tracy," said Paul, a 37-year-old engineer, wearing a mask with "August 4" stitched onto it.

"For us today, the most important thing is justice for our daughter... If the ruling parties stay in power then we know that won't happen. What's standing between us and justice are these elections," he told Reuters.

Some relatives of victims are also running. Pierre Gemayel, a lawyer whose brother was killed in the blast, is campaigning on one of three opposition-aligned lists in Beirut.

The Naggears were at home in a high-rise apartment overlooking the port when a huge store of ammonium nitrate detonated, in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded.

Two powerful MPs charged in connection with the blast are up for re-election on Sunday: Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, both running with the Shi'ite Amal Movement. They have both denied any wrongdoing and have declined to attend interrogation hearings.

"The parliament of nitrate. They still have the gall to run candidates?" said Paul.

"If they get re-elected, it will be a problem for us."

Just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the blast, Tracy learned she was pregnant. She gave birth in Lebanon and on Sunday the couple brought their six-week-old son with them to the polling station.

Other voters approached them to hug them or ask for voting advice.

The couple said it was "hugely symbolic" to be voting in the city where their daughter was both born and killed.

"I had been thinking of the past as we had been working and getting everyone excited about voting," Tracy said, "but the moment where I was actually voting, I was thinking of what could be."

Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Timour Azhari and Raissa Kasolowsky

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