Riot police in Lebanon‘s capital have fired tear gas to disperse men who tried to attack a key anti-government protest camp, setting off street battles that lasted for hours.
The clashes on Saturday marked some of the worst in Beirut since demonstrations against the country’s entire political establishment began almost two months ago.
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The unrest started when dozens of men, some wearing masks, pelted security forces with stones and threw firecrackers at them on one edge of the protest camp.
The security forces fired tear gas to keep the men away, but the clashes continued.
Riot police use tear gas to prevent anti political establishment protesters from approaching parliament square in downtown Beirut – they also beat up protesters… #LebanonProtests pic.twitter.com/AXFcvsAhAb
— Zeina Khodr (@ZeinakhodrAljaz) December 14, 2019
The rise in tension comes as politicians have failed to agree on forming a new government. It comes only two days before scheduled consultations between the president and parliamentary blocs to name a prime minister.
Protesters demanding an overhaul of the country’s political systems want the formation of a new government that is not affiliated with established parties.
The government headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29, two weeks after the nationwide protests began against a ruling elite blamed for state corruption and steering Lebanon into the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
The young men on Saturday attacked the epicentre of anti-government protests, apparently trying to storm it to prevent a gathering of anti-government protesters. The attackers approached the protest camp in central Beirut from a neighbourhood known as a stronghold for supporters of the Shia Hezbollah and Amal groups.
It was the second time this week that pro-Hezbollah and Amal supporters tried to attack the protest camp, angered by demonstrators’ criticism of their leaders.
Later on Saturday, hundreds of anti-government protesters gathered outside Parliament, also in central Beirut, and several people attacked the rally, prompting security forces to fire tear gas to push them back.
The clashes spread to streets surrounding the protest camp, engulfing the area with smoke from the tear gas. Security forces chased protesters around central Beirut, some firing several volleys of tear gas from armoured vehicles with multiple launchers.
The National News Agency reported that some shop windows in the commercial part of central Beirut were smashed by vandals. An Associated Press reporter saw one security member injured in the eye by a stone thrown by a protester.