Hundreds of supporters of the militant Hezbollah group have attacked a protest camp set up by anti-government demonstrators in the Lebanese capital, wielding sticks and burning and dismantling tents.
The violence in Beirut came shortly after dozens of other Hezbollah supporters attacked a roadblock set up by the protesters on a main thoroughfare.
The violence came on the 13th day of anti-government protests, which have been an unprecedented expression of anger that has united millions of Lebanese against what demonstrators say is a corrupt and inefficient political class in power for decades since the 1975-1990 civil war.
In recent days, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has become critical of the protests, claiming they have been backed and financed by foreign powers and rival political groups.
He called on his supporters to leave the rallies, and urged the protesters on Friday to remove the roadblocks.
The mass rallies have paralysed a country already grappling with a severe fiscal crisis.
Hezbollah and its allies dominate the government and is the country’s most powerful organisation, building its credibility on its resistance to Israel’s years-long occupation of parts of Lebanon.
Riot police and the military first moved in on Tuesday trying to separate the rival groups, but failed to stop the storming of Martyrs Square, where anti-government protesters have held their ground since October 17.
The protesters are calling on the government to step down, holding rallies in public squares and promoting a civil disobedience campaign that includes blocking main roads.
At the Beirut roadblock, an angry crowd swelled by early afternoon, some using sticks to chase protesters away. Some of the men also attacked journalists, kicking them and attempting to smash their cameras.
Many among the angry mob chanted “God, Nasrallah, and the whole Dahiyeh”, in reference to the southern suburb that is a stronghold of the Iranian-backed militant group.
Others told TV crews they were angry about the roadblocks and insults to their leader.
Then they marched to the central square, tearing down tents, smashing plastic chairs and using metal poles to poke holes in the tents, which they later burned. They also beat some anti-government protesters. One TV presenter described it as “a war scene”.
In his speech on Friday, Mr Nasrallah evoked the spectre of new civil war like the one that ended in 1990, saying: “Someone is trying to pull it … toward a civil war.”