Beirut: Groups of people chanting in solidarity with the country’s powerful Shiite Hezbollah group pushed into a peaceful demonstration on Friday in Beirut, briefly scuffling with protesters and prompting riot police to intervene.
Dressed in plain black t-shirts common to Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movement supporters, the men shouted “we heed your call, Nasrallah,” in reference to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
They also threw projectiles at protesters injuring several.
Similar scuffles broke out on Thursday night at the same site in central Beirut.
Following the scuffles more riot police with masks and batons were dispatched to the square to defuse the situation, which appeared to be growing more tense.
Some people began lobbing stones and sticks, threatening to quickly turn the so far peaceful protests violent.
“Nasrallah is more honourable than all of them,” they chanted about government leaders accused of corruption by the protesters.
“Riad Salameh is a thief,” they shouted, in reference to the central bank governor.
Nationwide protests fuelled by deteriorating economic conditions have swept Lebanon since last week, with protesters calling for the ouster of a ruling elite they say have driven the economy to collapse through corruption and mismanagement.
People took to Twitter to comment on the scuffles.
“Hezbollah beating people up now. one of them punched me. They’re beating women now,” tweeted @joeyayoub.
“Riad El Solh is under occupation. That’s the only way to call this. Hezbollah is scaring people away with sticks and punched and the army is just around them doing nothing,” he added.
Benjamin Redd, a journalist at the Daily Star tweeted: “So Hezbollah is fighting with government police ... in ultimate defense of the government? What a strange world we live in.”
The partisan display grated with the non-sectarian atmosphere cultivated by most of the protesters.
Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, headlined its front page “Risk of chaos”, saying the movement had pledged to work to reopen blocked roads.
Hezbollah maintains a large, well-disciplined military wing.
-With inputs from Reuters