MPs' parliament sit-in enters second week


MPs Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf have entered the second week of a sit-in inside parliament's chamber, vowing to remain inside until fellow MPs elect a new president.

Saliba and Khalaf, both from the so-called Change bloc, began their protest on January 19, after colleagues met and failed for an 11th time to agree on a new president.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since Michel Aoun's mandate expired last year, with a caretaker cabinet overseeing the responsibilities of government amid a financial collapse that is stretching into its third year and this week saw the local currency reach a record low against the U.S. dollar.

"We are staying here, we won't be leaving" before a president is elected, Saliba told AFP.

"The state has completely collapsed... there is no government, no financial system, and the judiciary is at war with itself," she said, adding that the pair hoped their sit-in would empower parliament.

Her comments came days after the country's notoriously politicized justice system appeared to descend into an internecine dispute over the devastating 2020 Beirut port blast after the lead investigator resumed work this week following a 13-month hiatus.

The judicial battle adds to a crushing economic crisis that has plunged much of Lebanon's population into poverty and is described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history.

Khalaf and Saliba, along with a number of other reform candidates, were elected last year on the back of 2019 protests against the country's factional elite who have dominated Lebanon's political scene since the 1975-1990 civil war.

While they hope their protest will break months of political paralysis, longtime parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri has yet to call for a new legislative session since the sit-in began.

A source close to Berri told AFP that parliament has not yet met because no breakthrough to the deadlock appears likely.

"Let their own bloc decide on a name first; they are themselves divided," the source said in a criticism of the sit-in.

Lawmakers supporting the powerful Hezbollah and those opposing the Iran-backed group have been divided on Lebanon's next leader -- but neither side has a clear majority.

Decision-making in Lebanese politics can take months of horse-trading between foreign-backed sectarian leaders, with Aoun's election in 2016 coming after more than two years without a president.

The international community has urged leaders to end the months of political paralysis and help stem the financial meltdown.