Christian leader endorses rival’s bid for president

Samir Geagea, whose party belongs to a western and Saudi- backed political bloc, said he would support Michel Aoun, whose party is allied with Shiite movement Hizbollah.

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Beirut // In a surprise reversal, a Lebanese politician last night endorsed the presidential candidacy of a rival, Michel Aoun, potentially defusing an 18-month crisis over the post.

Samir Geagea, whose party belongs to a western and Saudi- backed political bloc, said he would support Mr Aoun, whose party is allied with Shiite movement Hizbollah.

“After lengthy study, reflection, discussions and deliberations by the executive body of the Lebanese Forces, the Lebanese Forces announces its endorsement of General Michel Aoun’s candidacy for the presidency,” Mr Geagea said.

He said the endorsement was aimed at “emerging from where we are now to a safer position”, referring to the country’s lengthy presidential void.

The endorsement came despite bitter rivalry between the blocs to which Mr Geagea and Mr Aoun belong, which has been exacerbated by the war in Syria.

Mr Geagea’s bloc broadly backs the uprising against Syria’s president Bashar Al Assad and opposes Damascus’s influence in Lebanon.

Mr Aoun by contrast is allied with Hizbollah, which is backed by Iran and has dispatched fighters to Syria to bolster Mr Al Assad’s regime.

Mr Geagea and his bloc had fiercely opposed Mr Aoun’s candidacy, which Hizbollah backed, and the stalemate left Lebanon without a president since Michel Sleiman’s mandate expired in March 2014.

Lebanon has officially maintained a policy of “disassociation” from Syria’s conflict, despite the involvement of Hizbollah in the war.

Mr Geagea urged his political allies to support his endorsement, but several are unlikely to do so, making it uncertain whether the about-turn will be enough to get Mr Aoun elected.

* Agence France-Presse