Clashes between anti-government demonstrators and Hezbollah supporters in Beirut
Clashes between anti-government demonstrators and Hezbollah supporters in Beirut Reuters

Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas during clashes with anti-government protesters and with men who tried to attack the protest camp in Beirut on Saturday night, The Associated Press reported.

The violence was some of the worst in the capital since demonstrations began two months ago. The clashes continued into the night as riot police lobbed tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters who pelted them with stones, according to the report.

The trouble 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. As clashes continued, riot police fired intense volleys of tear gas, some of the heaviest in two months.

The initially limited confrontation at one edge of the protest camp spread into protracted street clashes that focused on anti-government protesters. For first time in Beirut, anti-riot police fired rubber bullets at protesters, whom they chased away from downtown.

Lebanon has suffered protests since October 17, with demonstrators demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has governed for three decades.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

The protests forced the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign on October 29. Politicians have failed to agree on a new Cabinet since, despite a rapidly deteriorating economic and financial crisis.

Saturday’s tension came only two days before the president meets with parliamentary blocs to name a prime minister.

The Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense said at least 46 people were injured and transported to hospitals Saturday, according to AP. It was not clear what the injuries were.

The violence started when young men attacked the epicenter of anti-government protests. The attackers chanted “Shiite, Shiite” and approached the protest camp in central Beirut from a neighborhood known as a stronghold for supporters of the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah 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.

The violence took a different turn later on Saturday when hundreds of anti-government protesters, including women, gathered outside parliament, also in central Beirut. Chaos started when several people attacked the anti-government rally. Riot police pushed back to disperse the crowd, firing tear gas and chasing both crowds away from the area.