Anti-government demonstrations in Beirut turned violent Saturday, as hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces in the streets of the Lebanese capital.
The violence was some of the worst in Beirut since nationwide anti-government demonstrations began in October. Anti-government protesters have accused Lebanon’s political class of steering the country into an economic crisis.
Images of the confrontations showed clouds of tear gas smoke filling the streets. There were numerous reports of people passing out due to the heavy smoke.
Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators, who threw stones at police and tried to break through barriers blocking roads to the parliament and government headquarters.
The Lebanese Red Cross said on Twitter late Saturday that it had taken 10 people to the hospital and provided care to 33 injured people on the ground.
The Lebanese Civil Defense said dozens of people were wounded in clashes, adding that the situation had calmed down by midnight.
Clashes sparked by opposing camps
The clashes were sparked Saturday afternoon when an anti-government protest camp in central Beirut was raided by a group of Hezbollah and Amal supporters opposed to the anti-government protest movement.
Security forces intervened, firing teargas to disperse the men who attacked the camp with stones and firecrackers.
The initially limited confrontation at the protest camp then spread into protracted street clashes with security forces that that eventually drew in hundreds of anti-government protesters that had gathered near the parliament.
Shiite Amal and Hezbollah are partners in Lebanon’s cross-sectarian government, and supporters of Hezbollah and Amal have attacked anti-government protest camps in several cities in recent weeks, angered by demonstrators’ criticism of their leaders.
Lebanon’s political crisis
Saturday’s clashes involving opposing political camps and security forces comes as Lebanon looks to form a new government and find a way out of a protracted political crisis.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri stepped down two weeks after protests began in October. Since then, divided political parties have failed to agree on a new premier. Talks between parliamentary blocs are planned for Monday.
The process of forming a government comes as Lebanon faces an economic crisis, as its currency loses value and the cost of living increases.
wmr/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)
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