January 28, 2020 / 1:19 PM / 20 days ago

Give Lebanon's cabinet a chance, say Christian religious leaders

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s Christian religious authorities on Tuesday urged anti-government protesters to give a new government breathing room to tackle a dire financial crisis, condemning what they described as mob assaults on security forces in recent marches.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi visits the Lebanese embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

Many demonstrators have rejected the government formed last week by the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies without participation of major political parties including the second-largest Christian party, Lebanese Forces (LF).

Demonstrations that began last October against a political elite blamed for steering Lebanon into its worst crisis in decades have turned violent as some protesters clashed with security forces at barricades around parliament and government headquarters in central Beirut to demand an independent cabinet.

“The Fathers stress the right for peaceful demonstrations to demand reform, but strongly reject the mobs on the streets and squares, especially in Beirut, lest the mobilisation veers away from its noble goals,” the Christian religious leaders said in a statement after a summit.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai had called the summit which gathered patriarchs of Lebanon’s many Christian sects, according to state news agency NNA. The meeting’s communique was read out in live broadcasts on local media.

The Christian faith leaders said the government should be given “room to take on its responsibilities”, and called on Arab states and the international community to support Lebanon.

Lebanon is governed according to a sectarian political system that parcels out state positions according to religious sect. The presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

The largest Christian party, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, is close to Hezbollah and has backed the new government, which has yet to issue a policy statement.

The heavily indebted country’s crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and waste. Foreign donors say any support to Lebanon will depend on it enacting long-delayed reforms.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday he would not obstruct a state budget drafted by the previous cabinet and approved on Tuesday by parliament in a session boycotted by some parties including the staunchly anti-Hezbollah LF.

Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Peter Graff

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