Thousands of Lebanese rally for Christian politician Aoun

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 11, 2015 6:20 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Thousands of Lebanese rallied near the presidential palace on Sunday in a show of support for Christian politician Michel Aoun, pressing their demand for him to fill the vacant presidency.

Waving the orange flag of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), they packed streets in the Baabda district that houses the headquarters of the presidency vacant for over a year due to political conflict.

The presidency is set aside for a Maronite Christian but has been vacant due to a political crisis stoked by regional conflicts including the war in neighboring Syria.

The rally was called to mark events in October 1990, near the end of the Lebanese civil war, when the Syrian army captured Baabda. Aoun - head of one of two rival administrations at the time - was forced out of the presidential palace and later into exile.

Aoun, an ally of the powerful Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, would like the presidency, but does not have the backing of a rival alliance led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri.

That alliance includes prominent Christian rivals to Aoun, notably his civil war enemy Samir Geagea, who also seeks the presidency.

Resolving the deadlock over the presidency has been complicated by regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri, and Iran, which backs Hezbollah.

Aoun, arguing that Christians are being politically marginalized, has said the president should be elected in a popular vote if parliament cannot agree.

He has also taken aim at the national unity government led by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, saying it has usurped the powers of the presidency. FPM ministers have not however quit the government.

Salam's government, formed with Saudi-Iranian blessing, has spared Lebanon a complete vacuum in the executive arm but has been unable to take any major decisions due to a lack of consensus.

Lebanon's political paralysis has fueled a broader wave of discontent that has touched off sometimes violent protests over failing public services in recent months. Anger has come to a head this summer over a crisis over trash disposal, leaving piles of refuse mounting on Beirut's streets.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; editing by Ralph Boulton)