Police fire tear gas as groups clash in Lebanon capital
BEIRUT (AP) — Security forces fired tear gas amid confrontations in central Beirut that went into Monday morning between Hezbollah supporters and demonstrators protesting against Lebanon’s political elite.
The confrontations began after dozens of supporters of the Iran-backed militant group arrived on scooters and attacked the protesters with clubs and metal rods, chanting pro-Hezbollah slogans. Riot police and soldiers then formed a human barrier, separating between the two sides.
Groups of young men threw stones at each other for hours, with security forces in the middle. Several people were beaten and injured. A few Hezbollah supporters held up the Muslim Shiite group’s large yellow flag, waving it and taunting the protesters on the other side.
The confrontations were some of the worst since protests erupted in Lebanon on Oct. 17, with demonstrators demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has governed for three decades. The protests forced the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign on Oct. 29, and politicians have failed to agree on a new Cabinet since, despite a rapidly deteriorating economic crisis.
The leaderless protesters say they are blocking roads to exert pressure on politicians to form a new government.
“Shiites, Shiites, Shiites,” the Hezbollah supporters shouted. Some fired flares in the direction of security forces and protesters. Protesters on the other side responded: “Hezbollah is terrorist.”
The attacks occurred after protesters blocked a major intersection known as the Ring Road that links eastern neighborhoods of the capital with western parts. Protesters simultaneously closed roads in areas north of Beirut and in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
Hezbollah supporters have attacked the main protest camp in central Beirut on at least two occasions, destroying tents set up by protesters.
The leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has said the nationwide protests have been exploited by foreign powers and are no longer spontaneous. He has warned they could drag Lebanon toward civil war and says protesters must stop blocking roads and paralyzing the country.
The unprecedented nationwide protests were triggered by proposed new taxes, including on the use of the WhatsApp mobile app. They came on the heels of an austerity budget that cut public spending, pensions and employee benefits to tackle a deepening economic crisis.
They have since evolved into calls for the entire political class, of which Hezbollah is part, to leave.