Kerry urges Lebanon to elect president soon

June 05, 2014 - 7:19:51 am
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al Rai in Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday. 

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Lebanon’s politicians yesterday to overcome their “deeply troubling” stalemate and elect a new president to help respond to the damaging fallout of civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Kerry, on a brief visit to Beirut, also announced more aid to help Lebanon and other countries in the region struggling to cope with millions of Syrian refugees.

“Lebanon’s security for years has been of paramount concern to the United States, and that is why I have to say that the current political stalemate here in Lebanon is deeply troubling,” he said after meeting Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 25, when Michel Suleiman’s six-year term expired. Attempts by politicians to pick a successor have foundered on longstanding divisions exacerbated by tensions over the Syrian war. Political rifts have been accompanied by sectarian violence including bombs, gunbattles and rocket fire. Salam’s government also faces widening budget deficits and a growing strain on services such as electricity, water, health and education from more than 1 million Syrian refugees in a country of 4 million.

“Lebanon needs and Lebanon deserves to have a fully empowered, fully functioning, complete government. We hope the Lebanese parliament will select a president quickly,” Kerry said.

The presidency, allocated to the Maronite Christian community under Lebanon’s sectarian division of power, is one of the three main political offices alongside the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, and the parliamentary speaker, a Shiae Muslim. The war in Syria has split Lebanon’s Christians just as it has divided Muslims. Shia Hezbollah — a powerful militant group and political force in Lebanon — has sent fighters to reinforce Assad, a fellow ally of Shia Iran, while some Lebanese Sunnis have joined Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels. REUTERS

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