Hundreds of people joined convoys on the streets of beirut this month for the annual commemoration of bashir gemayel, the christian militia leader and lebanese president assassinated in 1982.

But this years parade erupted into chaos when supporters of two rival christian groups the lebanese forces who had organised the event and lebanese president michel aouns free patriotic movement clashed.

While nobody was seriously hurt, the lebanese army intervened to break up the latest in a spate of armed clashes that have fuelled fears of a deteriorating security situation as politicians struggle to form a new government in the wake of last months catastrophic port explosion.

With lebanon in an economic freefall that has pushed more than half the population below the poverty line and left them facing renewed political turbulence, analysts have warned that the country is on the verge of becoming a failed state. as a sense of order erodes, historical rivalries have flared on the street.

Everybody in lebanon is tense, due to the situation as a whole, said samir geagea, leader of the christian lebanese forces party. dismissing this months clashes as completely an accident, he said the probability of accidents is higher than in any other normal [situation].

Members of the free patriotic movement describe the march as a show of force by the rival group. mr aoun did not comment.

These clashes followed altercations in beirut and elsewhere which are all very local but they all speak to a similar reality, said emile hokayem, senior fellow for middle east security at the international institute for strategic studies. at a time when theres a general perception of an eroding state and weakening order, loyalty to local and subnational leaders increases.

There has also been a series of accidental fires and blasts, including one in southern lebanon on tuesday, in an area dominated by hizbollah an iran-backed shia islamist paramilitary and political party, which is considered a terrorist group by several western nations including the us. this has fed the sense of unease and uncertainty.

The violence is taking place in the context of stalled negotiations over a new government, badly needed to negotiate a bailout with the imf and restore the confidence of donor countries. the international community is not willing to support practices that led to financial collapse and economic crisis well before this explosion, said janez lenarcic, the european commissioner for crisis management, during a recent visit to beirut.

But lebanons prime minister designate, mustapha adib, failed to meet a french deadline to appoint a new cabinet by september 15, as rival groups bickered over control of the key finance ministry. the last government resigned days after the port explosion, forced out by anger at political corruption and state incompetence.

The countrys traditional political parties share power and positions through a de facto quota system that was established in the wake of civil war. they also buy loyalty through favours, such as support for healthcare or cash handouts close to election time, and play on their constituents fears that other communities may be a threat.

And as the situation further deteriorates and the states ability to supply basic services gets even worse, what will matter is if your local [chief] can and will deliver local security, provision of food and services, said mr hokayem.

While weapons are widely available in lebanon, only one paramilitary force is powerful enough to challenge the lebanese army hizbollah. but it is not suspected of being behind a campaign of violence. i dont think that any party or any movement has a plan in order to destabilise the situation in the country, said mr geagea.

Even so, these clashes can still be deadly. last month, two people were killed in the district of khalde, south of beirut, when a dispute over religious flags sparked a gun battle between sunni and shia muslim groups.

And at least one person was killed during a clash in the majority sunni district of tariq el-jadideh, where residents said machine guns were being used. the trigger for the violence, the people say, was one prominent familys decision to switch their allegiance from former prime minister saad hariri to his brother bahaa. bahaa hariri denies seeking political office but has been seen by many in the sunni community as a possible alternative to his brother.

The hariri family has traditionally poured money into the area, paying for university scholarships and construction. posters of saad hariri, who stepped down last year in the wake of protests and is the son of post-civil war leader rafiq hariri, hang outside houses and shops.

[supporting] anyone beside saad is not allowed, we will go immediately and beat them, said fadi, 47, who lives on the street which has seen the nightly clashes. because our principle is saad and we will stay supporting him.

While things have become quieter since then, fadi and other residents say there could still be more trouble. the problem can arise again, he said, adding that the rotten state is in no position to help: the government here is a problem, they are all thieves.