Lebanon's top Christian cleric berates politicians as deadlock drags on

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

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's most senior Christian cleric on Wednesday bemoaned the inability of the country's senior politicians to agree a government as the country sinks further into financial collapse.

"We don't have bread, we don't have medicine, we don't have fuel, what are they waiting for?" Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said after a meeting with President Michel Aoun.

Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and Aoun have been at loggerheads over cabinet positions since October, preventing the formation of a government that is much needed to enact reforms and unlock foreign aid.

Lebanon has been without a government since Hassan Diab's cabinet resigned in the aftermath of the Beirut port blast last August. Diab's government has carried on in a caretaker capacity.

Any hopes of a breakthrough after Rai's visit to the presidential palace on Wednesday were dashed after Hariri and Aoun each issued statements criticising the other.

Aoun accused Hariri of trying to overstep his powers while Hariri said the president was under the sway of his son-in-law and powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil.

"The country needs salvation; it doesn't need verbal war," Rai said. "Respect each other, insults don't do anything, they just muddy the waters."

Rai spoke ahead of a planned visit to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis on July 1.

Pope Francis, who has promised to visit Lebanon if fractious politicians agree on a new government, is meeting its Christian leaders to discuss the country's worsening economic meltdown.

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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