“This is only the first escalation,” one protester with a scarf wrapped around his face told AFP, as smoke from the tyres turned the sky behind him a charcoal grey.

“We want to send a message to the government: Stop procrastinating! The people know what you’re doing,” he said, adding ominously: “Tomorrow the deadline ends, and then things could get totally of control.”

Protesters are demanding early elections based on a reformed voting law, a new prime minister to replace current caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi and that officials deemed corrupt be held to account.

Abdel Mahdi resigned nearly two months ago, but political parties have thus far failed to agree on a successor and he has continued to run the government as a caretaker.