Lebanon dialogue suspended as Christian party pulls out

September 5, 2016 3:26 PM EDT

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - The speaker of the Lebanese parliament on Monday suspended a national dialogue of rival politicians after one of the main Christian parties walked out, deepening the country's political crisis.

Speaker Nabih Berri took the decision after the withdrawal of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which criticized the dialogue as pointless and condemned what it called contraventions of a national pact on sectarian power-sharing among the Lebanese.

"There is no benefit from the dialogue and its continuation, therefore we announced this position in cabinet, and we announced it now at the dialogue table," FPM leader Gebran Bassil said in a statement reported by the National News Agency.

Lebanon, which is still rebuilding from its 1975-90 civil war, has been paralyzed by a political crisis exacerbated by the conflict in neighboring Syria.

The country has been without a president for more than two years because rival groups have been unable to agree on who it should be, and Prime Minister Tammam Salam's unity cabinet has been paralyzed by divisions among its members.

The presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian. The FPM is determined the next head of state should be its founder, Michel Aoun. His party has the biggest number of Christian seats in parliament.

Berri, a Shi'ite politician, had said he would suspend the dialogue if any of the main factions withdrew.

The FPM is an ally of the powerful Shi'ite group Hezbollah, which supports Aoun for the presidency.

The other main candidate for the position is Suleiman Franjieh, another Hezbollah ally who was nominated for the post by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri last year.

A row broke out between Bassil and Franjieh during Monday's session. "Parliament Speaker Nabil Berri suspended the dialogue indefinitely on Monday ... after a verbal row between two Christian leaders," an official said.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)



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