Tue 26 November 2019:

Clashes between supporters of Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Saad Hariri, and Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal erupted into gunfire in Beirut late on Monday, state news agency NNA reported.

The clashes marked the second consecutive night of violence linked to Lebanon’s political crisis, threatening to tip largely peaceful demonstrations directed at the country’s ruling elite in a more bloody direction.

A video posted by Lebanese broadcaster LBCI showed heavy gunfire around Cola bridge in Beirut. The source of the gunfire was not immediately clear. No injuries were reported.

In the southern town of Tyre, supporters of Hezbollah and Amal tore up protest tents and set them on fire, prompting security forces to intervene and fire into the air, according to Lebanese media.

The protests that have swept Lebanon since October 17 are fueled by deep resentment for a ruling class seen as mired in corruption and having driven the economy into crisis.

Supporters of Amal and the heavily armed Hezbollah have occasionally sought to break up the demonstrations and clear roads cut off by protesters. They destroyed a main protest camp in central Beirut last month.

The groups were influential in the coalition government led by Hariri, who quit on October 29 after the protests began. They had opposed Hariri’s resignation.

In a statement, Hariri’s Future Movement warned its supporters to refrain from protesting and stay away from large gatherings to “avoid being dragged into any provocation intended to ignite strife.”

Groups of men on motorcycles, some waving Amal and Hezbollah flags, were seen roving streets in Beirut and Tyre, according to witnesses and videos broadcasted on Lebanese media.

Adding to tensions, two people were killed when their car slammed into a traffic barrier on a coastal road on Monday, sparking criticism from Hezbollah and others of protesters that have cut roads as a primary tactic to keep up pressure.

UN Urges Lebanon to Keep Protests Peaceful

The UN Security Council on Monday called for “the peaceful character of the protests” in Lebanon to be upheld after overnight attacks by Hezbollah and Amal supporters on anti-government demonstrators.

Members “called on all actors to conduct intensive national dialogue and to maintain the peaceful character of the protests by avoiding violence and respecting the right to peaceful assembly in protest,” the Council said in a statement approved unanimously at the end of a regular council meeting on Lebanon.

Lebanon has faced five weeks of protests, fuelled by anger at corruption among sectarian politicians who have governed for decades. Demonstrators want to see the entire ruling class gone from power.

Despite the unprecedented protests, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Oct. 29 and exacerbated the economic crisis, deeply divided politicians have yet to agree on a new government.

This has kept anti-government protesters on the streets, prompting Hezbollah and Amal supporters on several occasions to try to reopen roads blocked by the demonstrators.

The latest clashes took place after midnight Sunday. 

Adding to tensions, two people were killed when their car slammed into a traffic barrier and burst into flames on a coastal road in the early hours of Monday, security sources said.

The crash sparked debate on social media about whether protest tactics, which have often included road blockades, had gone too far, although it was not immediately clear who set up the barrier that caused the accident.

A video on social media apparently taken from a traffic camera showed a car smashing through a metal barricade in the center of the road and lighting on fire. 

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Economic Bodies group, which includes industrialists and bankers, called for the closure of private institutions from Thursday to Saturday to push major parties to form a new government and avert further economic damage.

“The political forces have not assumed their national responsibilities and have not shown the seriousness necessary to produce solutions to the current crisis,” it said.

Banks reopened last week after mostly being shut since unrest began on Oct. 17. Fearing capital flight and amid a hard currency shortage, commercial banks have placed tight restrictions on withdrawals and transfers abroad. 

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