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Lebanese Anti-Government Protests Turn Violent, Hundreds Injured

Police have fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in Lebanon's capital to disperse thousands of protesters amid some of the worst rioting since demonstrations erupted three months ago.

More than 150 people were injured as thick white smoke covered the downtown Beirut area near the parliament.

Groups of young men hurled stones and firecrackers at police, who responded with water cannons and tear gas. Some protesters were seen vomiting on the street after inhaling the gas.

Saturday's clashes took place amid a rapidly worsening financial crisis and an ongoing impasse over the formation of a new government after the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October.

Riot police drag a protester into police barracks after anti-government protesters gathered to demand the release of arrested detainees in Beirut on January 15. Combination image: ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty

The protesters blame politicians for widespread corruption and mismanagement in a country that has accumulated one of the largest debt ratios in the world.

They had called for a demonstration on Saturday afternoon with the theme "we will not pay the price" in reference to debt that stands at about $US87 billion ($A127 billion), or more than 150 percent of GDP.

President Michel Aoun called on security forces to protect peaceful protesters and work on restoring calm in downtown Beirut and to protect public and private property. He asked the ministers of defence and interior, and the heads of security agencies to act.

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Hariri, the caretaker prime minister, called those behind the riots "outlaws" and called on police and armed forces to protect Beirut.

"The confrontations, fires and acts of sabotage in central Beirut are crazy, suspicious and rejected," tweeted Hariri, who lives near to where the unrest erupted. "They threaten civil peace and warn of grave consequences."

The Lebanese Red Cross said it took 65 people to hospitals and treated 100 others on the spot, urging people to donate blood.