Middle East

Thousands rally in Beirut over politician’s presidential election call

Thousands of protesters rallied in Beirut on Friday to support Christian faction leader Michel Aoun's call for Lebanon to elect its president by popular vote to address a crisis that has paralysed government and parliament.

Aoun's supporters waved the orange banners of his Free Patriotic Movement, and listened to a brief televised address by him. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, another leader of the movement, told the gathering: "We Lebanese want to choose our president."

The president, who the sectarian power-sharing system stipulates must be a Christian, is chosen by parliament. But MPs have failed in at least 26 sessions to elect one since Michel Suleiman's term expired last year.

Aoun would like the post, but cannot muster the cross-party consensus required, and there is no sign of a credible alternative.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tammam Salam's government, which groups parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum, has been largely crippled since it took office with the blessing of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which back rival Lebanese factions.

Opponents have accused Salam of usurping powers reserved for the president, and Salam has threatened to resign in frustration with the failings of his cabinet.

Meanwhile thousands have protested in Beirut in recent weeks at the government's failure to dispose of mounds of uncollected garbage festering on Beirut's streets.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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