BEIRUT (AP) — A group of Hezbollah supporters attacked demonstrators protesting against Lebanon’s political elite in central Beirut late Sunday, triggering confrontations as security forces separated the two sides.
The attacks by young men armed with clubs and metal rods chanting pro-Hezbollah slogans continued into the early hours of Monday as riot police and soldiers formed a human barrier preventing them from reaching the protesters.
Groups of young men, including some women, threw stones at each other for hours. Several people were beaten and injured. At least one man held up a large yellow Hezbollah flag.
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.
The confrontations and tension were some of the worst since protests erupted in Lebanon on Oct. 17, 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 and financial crisis.
The leaderless protesters say they are blocking roads to exert pressure on politicians to form a new government.
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.