Lebanese troops on Monday night lobbed tear gas to disperse supporters of the Hezbollah and Amal groups who tried to storm a square in Beirut in response to a video that purportedly offended Shiite figures, witnesses and media reports said, according to Reuters.
Hundreds of youths on motorcycles waving their party and religious flags gathered in downtown Beirut chanting “Shiites, Shiites” and setting fire to tires. They hurled stones and fireworks at security forces standing nearby, witnesses said.
Ignoring calls for restraint by politicians, the youths tried to break a security cordon to storm the square where demonstrators have set up tents as part of an anti-government protest that has been going on for weeks, according to Reuters.
In the vicinity of the area close to a main road that links the capital’s eastern and western sections, scores of youths had burnt tires, smashed office buildings and torched several cars, live coverage by local television stations showed.
The protesters camped in the square have been targeted by Shiite groups in the past angered by chants against their political leaders, although the latest violence was of an overtly sectarian nature.
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.
The impasse took a violent turn over the weekend when Beirut was clouded in tear gas as security forces clashed with protesters who blame the ruling elite for corruption and bad governance. Dozens were wounded.
Hezbollah, which has a strong political presence in Lebanon, is a major part of the cabinet, after the group and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in the election last May.