- Title: LEBANON-PROTEST Lebanese Christian party supporters rally in Downtown Beirut
- Date: 13th August 2015
- Summary: VARIOUS OF PROTESTERS
- Embargoed: 28th August 2015 13:00
- Location: Lebanon
- Country: Lebanon
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAC8BGQ8JE98Z8JKL8B1P7PCVBR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Hundreds of supporters of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) gathered at Martyrs' square in downtown Beirut on Wednesday (August 12) calling for a new president to be chosen to end a power vacuum in the country.
Within Lebanon's political system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shi'ite.
The Middle East's only Christian presidency has been vacant since May 2014 because lawmakers cannot agree on a candidate. Lebanese politics has long been dogged by sectarian divisions and personal rivalries but the war in neighbouring Syria has exacerbated divisions even further.
"The situation in the country has, as you can see, neglection on different levels: garbage, public money theft, violation of local authorities' power and money, and we know the situation of security in the country. All these need a movement, these people here are saying "we need change and reform" and this can't happen while we sit at home," explained Ibrahim Kenaan, a Lebanese MP from the FPM, at the gathering.
One of the protesters, Aida Rahbani, said she joined the streets as per the request of Lebanese Christian politician Michel Aoun, head of the FPM.
"If it is over for the Christians, it will be over for all Lebanese and for Lebanon," said Rahbani, adding "First of all, we want a fair and comprehensive election law, second of all we want a president - and we wish the strongest president comes, who is known to be Michel Aoun - then we hope Brigadier-General Shamel Roukoz to be appointed as army chief."
"We are here to ask for a strong Lebanese president, elected by the Lebanese people, who would represent them," said another protester, Christine.
Aoun, 80, is an ally of Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese Shi'ite group backed by Iran that is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
His critics, including other Christian leaders, said his motivation is personal. A presidential hopeful, he wants his son-in-law, Brigadier-General Shamel Roukoz, appointed as army chief when the job needs filling in September.
The presidency has fallen victim to political deadlock rooted in Lebanese rivalries that have been complicated by competition between regional states, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have a decisive influence over Lebanese politics.
A government formed in February with Saudi-Iranian blessing has spared Lebanon a complete political void at the top but it has struggled to take decisions and the parliament is barely functioning.
The country is hosting more than one million refugees from Syria's war which have put a strain on its already dilapidated infrastructure.
Fighting over the border has regularly spilled over onto Lebanese soil and Sunni Islamist militant groups have tried to use Lebanese towns as bases and have held Lebanese soldiers captive, killing a number of them.
The U.S. State Department website cites statistics from a Lebanese research firm that estimate around 40 percent of Lebanese are Christians of various denominations, 27 percent are Sunni Muslims and 27 percent Shi'ite.
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