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Top Christian clerics urge Lebanese leaders to agree on government

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The leaders of Lebanon’s Maronite and Orthodox Christian churches urged Lebanese leaders on Sunday to stop delaying talks on forming a government in scathing sermons in which they blamed them for the country’s financial crisis and political deadlock.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai speaks after meeting with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 15, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, was speaking a day after demonstrators marched through Beirut to mark the first anniversary of a protest movement which erupted last October against corruption and mismanagement.

In the year since, Lebanon’s problems have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and a devastating explosion in Beirut in August.

“Take your hands off the government and liberate it. You are responsible for the crime of plunging the country into total paralysis in addition to the implications of the corona pandemic,” the patriarch said in his sermon.

His remarks came after two main Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Lebanese Forces, said this week they would not back the nomination of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to lead a new government to tackle the deep economic crisis, further complicating efforts to agree a new premier.

“The responsibility and accountability is collective. Who among you officials has the leisure of time to delay consultations to form a government?” he said.

“No one is innocent of Lebanon’s (financial) bleeding.”

The head of the Shi’ite Amal party and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri said he was optimistic next week would bring reassuring news for Lebanese in terms of government formation.

“We will see movement starting Monday,” he was quoted by NBN television as saying, without elaborating.

In his Sunday sermon, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi also lambasted the political elite.

“Return to your conscience, leaders ... be humble and listen to the pain of your people,” the archbishop said.

Hariri, who quit as prime minister last October in the face of the nationwide protests, has said he is ready to lead a government to implement reforms proposed by France as a way to unlock badly needed international aid.

Parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister were due to be held last Thursday, but President Michel Aoun postponed the discussions after receiving requests for a delay from some parliamentary blocs.

Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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