Assailants attack several protest camps across Lebanon
Assailants attacked several protest camps in north and south Lebanon early on Tuesday, according to state-run media, demolishing tents and burning down others as anger boiled over in the capital following a video deemed offensive to the country's Shias.
The violence – some of it apparently carried out by Hezbollah supporters and their allies – threatened to plunge Lebanon further into chaos amid two months of anti-government protests and a spiralling financial crisis.
In Beirut, charred remains of several torched cars were scattered on a main avenue. Faint smoke smouldered from a fire set in a building overlooking the epicentre of the two-month-old protests, after a night of rage by supporters of Lebanon's two main Shia groups, Hezbollah and Amal.
It was the third consecutive night of violence in Lebanon, coming after the Lebanese president on Monday postponed talks on naming a new prime minister, further prolonging the unrest in the Mediterranean country.
Protests bring Beirut’s abandoned Egg back to life
In the heart of Beirut's manicured downtown, something is stirring in a bullet-pocked concrete shell of a building known as "the Egg": the visually unappealing Egg has advanced to become the meeting place for Lebanese democracy activists. Impressions by Lisa Barrington
The domed brutalist structure – once a cinema – was designed in the heady days of the 60s, badly damaged in the 1975-90 civil war, then abandoned, left to teenagers seeking a secret place for a drink or a smoke. Bullet marks and a graffiti reading "Revolution" can be seen on the Egg's exterior
Several weeks ago, protesters started pouring into the streets, raging against the political elite and reclaiming this particularly unloved corner of their capital
Demonstrators walked into the echoing hall and started staging impromptu parties, photo shoots, lectures. Older residents came in to have another look at a landmark they had long dismissed as an eyesore
Protesters turned the Egg into a meeting place, holding sessions to discuss where the demonstrations were going, what the people wanted to achieve
Small groups clambered up a precarious ladder to fly flags from a roof spiked with construction poles…
…while others sprayed the walls with graffiti and slogans calling for revolution, women's participation, gay rights. The Egg remains a venue for protest meetings and concerts
"Everyone in Lebanon feels lost, there are people not knowing what will happen. People are fearful. So we are here to talk about what we can do ... and what we can change," said Stephany Khalil during one session on Saturday. Three days later, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri bowed to the demonstrations and agreed to resign, bringing his coalition government down with him
It remains to be seen what role the protesters and their makeshift meeting place will play in the new political order. But things have already started to change
"Public spaces [are] coming back to the people," said a protester who gave his name as Haydar, sitting on a bare concrete terrace that used to hold cinema seats. "Before, walking in the street we would look at it and say: 'Ok, it's a building. We don't know what it is.' Now we can enter it, and see how people before us lived"
The violence was fuelled by an undated video circulating online of a man, said to be living somewhere in Europe but otherwise from Lebanon's majority Sunni city of Tripoli, railing against Shia politicians, religious figures and others. It was unclear what the link was between the video and the attacks on the protest camps.
Although protesters stress their desire for an end for political and sectarian divisions, last night's violence illustrates the mounting tensions that have increased as the protests drag on.
Supporters of the militant Hezbollah group and the Amal movement, angered by protesters' criticism of their leaders, have tried to attack the protest camps for days. Late on Monday, hundreds of angry men – apparently supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, which is led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri – descended on the camp in central Beirut.
They clashed for hours with security forces guarding the camp, hurling stones and firecrackers and setting fire to several cars, trees and a building under construction overlooking the square. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.
Ali Merhi, an electrician from the Beirut neighbourhood where the assailants appear to hail from, said in response to the violence:
"The people of this area are all against what happened yesterday, and things have calmed down ... but some are still holding a grudge.''
The man whose video incited the violence later released another video apologising for his words, stating that he "takes medicine and is sick", and that his insults were the result of a personal feud.
Shia cleric Sheikh Muhammad Qasem Ayad from the neighbourhood adjacent to the protest gathering appeared in an interview with LBC TV Monday night saying: "If the attackers really loved Hussein, let them evacuate the streets. These are not the ethics of the Shias."
The cleric was referring to the grandson of the Islam prophet Muhammad and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam.
Another protester from the north-eastern region of Baalbak, Abbas Huwada, 34, said in Beirut that he is opposed to the violence, adding: "It doesn't matter if I am Shia or Sunni. We are all Lebanese living under one flag. We need to be wiser. Someone comes out, makes a statement, and turns the country upside down.''
Meanwhile, reports emerged of assailants attacking protest tents in northern Lebanon's Hermel district, in the southern city of Sidon and the town of Nabatiyeh, where the protesters are also Shias. The assailants set fires to the tents in Sidon, and destroyed the ones in Nabatiyeh, according to the state-run National News Agency.
In the district of Hermel, fires raged in tents set up by protesters in the village of Fakeha after assailants lobbed a bomb into it, the agency said.
The anti-government protests, which erupted in mid-October, have spared no Lebanese politician, accusing the ruling elite of corruption and mismanagement, and calling for a government of independents. They have largely been peaceful, sparked by an intensifying economic crisis
Berri, the parliament speaker, and outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri met on Tuesday and urged the Lebanese to be aware from being "drawn toward strife'' saying that some sides that they did not name are working to incite violence in the country. Both leaders called on the army and police to protest public and private property. (AP)