Dozens injured in violent clashes with security forces in Beirut

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Security forces on Saturday fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in Beirut, some of whom tried to break into a barricaded central district of Lebanon's capital.

State news agency NNA said the tear gas had made several people faint, while the Lebanese Civil Defence said it treated 54 people who were wounded, taking more than half to hospital.

The Lebanese Red Cross told AFP people had been treated for breathing difficulties and fainting, along with injuries caused by stones, noting that both security personnel and civilians were among those treated.

Hundreds of people were gathered as part of a wave of protests that have swept Lebanon since October 17, furious at a ruling elite that steered the country towards its worst economic crisis in decades.

Riot police and security forces deployed en masse in Beirut on Saturday night, chasing demonstrators in the street, beating and detaining some of them, a Reuters witness and a protester said.

Lebanese riot police fire tear gas canisters during clashes with anti-government demonstrators on Saturday. AFP

The forces fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets as some protesters tried to push through steel barriers blocking paths to the parliament and government headquarters.

Protesters accuse the political class of milking the state for their own benefit through networks of patronage.

The Lebanese Civil Defence said calm returned to central Beirut by midnight.

Earlier on Saturday dozens of young people opposed to the anti-government protest movement clashed with riot police in the capital, throwing rocks and firecrackers against volleys of teargas.

Young counter-protesters from an area of Beirut dominated by the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah and fellow Shiite movement Amal tried to raid a key anti-government protest camp in Martyrs' Square on Saturday afternoon.

Anti-riot police intervened, firing teargas to disperse them.

The square, in central Beirut, has been at the epicentre of the protests over perceived official corruption, poor services and economic woes.

These large anti-government rallies, which grew into calls for a root-and-branch overhaul of the state, have mostly passed off peacefully.

However, clashes have become more frequent in recent weeks, with supporters of Hezbollah and Amal attacking protest camps in several cities amid counter-demonstrations.

Both Amal and Hezbollah are partners in Lebanon's cross-sectarian government.

The counter-protests have taken place in the capital and other Lebanese cities in recent weeks, prompting the leader of Hezbollah on Friday to urge his supporters and those of Amal to stay calm.

Hassan Nasrallah said that the "anger" of some of his movement's members had gone "out of control" but stressed it had been quickly contained.

Lebanese security services had already used force to disperse anti-government protesters earlier this week.

Since the protests pushed Saad Al Hariri to resign as prime minister in late October, talks between the main parties have been deadlocked over forming a new cabinet.

Lebanon urgently needs a new government to pull it out of the crisis which has also shaken confidence in its banking system. Foreign donors say they will only help after the country gets a cabinet that can enact reforms.

The process of forming a government will take place as Lebanon faces an economic crisis.

Updated: December 15, 2019 03:01 AM

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