Thousands of supporters of Christian Lebanese leader protest in Beirut to demand new elections



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BEIRUT — Thousands of supporters of a Lebanese Christian leader staged a protest in downtown Beirut on Friday, demanding a new electoral law and parliament and presidential elections.

Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has urged a heavy turnout at the demonstration, which is separate from recent anti-government protests over the country's ongoing trash crisis.

Aoun, who is part of the current government, is calling for an end to what he says has been Christian marginalization. Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year. According to Lebanon's power-sharing system, the president must be a Christian, the premier a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite.

Aoun, a former army commander, is bidding for presidency. He is calling for a new electoral law and parliament elections to be followed by presidential elections.

Thousands of people waving the Free Patriotic Movement's flag took part in the protest in Beirut's Martyrs' Square, forming a sea of orange.

"At your service, General," read one of the banners, in reference to Aoun. "We want new elections emanating from a fair election law," read another.

Friday's protest comes amid a wave of anti-government rallies in Beirut, sparked by the government's inability to solve an ongoing trash crisis. Those rallies have been led by civil society groups who came together to protest government corruption that led to the latest gridlock. They now seek to unseat a political class that has dominated Lebanese politics since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Critics say Aoun is riding on the wave of protests, which excluded political parties, for his own political agenda.

Lucien Bourjeily, a founder of the "You Stink" movement, which has been the driver of anti-government protests the past two weeks, said it was "absurd" that Aoun was protesting against the government which he is part of.

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