Lebanon speaker says Christian tie-up not enough to secure presidency: paper

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2016 4:31 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The influential speaker of Lebanon's parliament has cast doubt on whether the reconciliation of the country's rival Christian leaders will help the country install a new president after nearly two years with the post empty.

In a surprise move, Christian politician Samir Geagea declared support for 80-year-old rival Michel Aoun for presidency on Monday, edging him closer to the position.

Aoun is part of the March 8 alliance dominated by the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah. Geagea is part of the March 14 alliance led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, who is in turn backed by Saudi Arabia.

"The rivalry between the two was the toughest and hardest (in the country) hence what happened is an advanced step for the Lebanese and a positive thing on the Christian front in particular but this step is not enough presidentially," speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying in Assafir newspaper on Wednesday.

Berri, a powerful Shi'ite politician, is also part of March 8, and has said he will not call parliament to elect a president unless all the main sectarian parties attend.

That means Aoun must win Sunni backing in addition to the strong Shi'ite support he enjoys from Hezbollah.

Assafir newspaper said Berri would call on his own grouping, the Amal Movement, to discus its position when "he has enough elements to take the appropriate decision".

Lebanon has been without a president for nearly two years. The parliament, which elects the president, has convened for at least 30 times without being able to agree on a candidate.

Berri had earlier called for a session to elect a president on Feb. 8.

An initiative by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri to nominate another Christian leader Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency has also thrown another possibility into the mix.

(Editing by Alison Williams)