BEIRUT- A Lebanese judge on Monday charged 68 people including 18 detainees with murder and incitement to sectarian strife over fatal clashes this month in Beirut, Lebanon's National News agency said.

Seven followers of Lebanon's Shiite Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its ally, the Amal Movement, were killed on Oct. 14 in the worst street violence in Beirut in over a decade.

The gunfire began as protesters assembled for a demonstration called for by Hezbollah and Amal against Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading an investigation into an explosion at Beirut port that killed over 200 people on Aug. 4 last year.

Monday's charges were filed by Judge Fadi Akiki, a government representative at the military court. They also include charges of attempted murder, possession of unlicensed weapons and destruction of public and private property.

The case was referred to an investigative judge.

Hezbollah, Amal and the Christian Marada Movement have accused Bitar of politicising the investigation after he sought to question former ministers affiliated with the latter two parties.

Hezbollah has accused the Christian Lebanese Forces party of targeting demonstrators with sniper fire.

The party's leader, Samir Geagea, has denied the allegations and said residents of the Christian-majority Ain al-Remmaneh area, where the violence took place, had acted in self-defence.

In a local television interview last week, Geagea said the trouble began when supporters of the Shi'ite Muslim parties entered the neighbourhood and vandalised cars, and that four residents were wounded before a shot was fired.

Footage released later appeared to show at least one person being shot by a soldier.

A Lebanese Army spokesperson said the incident was being investigated by a military court as part of the wider investigation into the clashes.

The clashes across a former frontline of Lebanon's 1975-90 Civil War raised the spectre of renewed sectarian violence.

(Writing By Timour Azhari, Editing by Timothy Heritage) ((; + 9712 4082101; Reuters Messaging: