After anti-government rally, Lebanon parliament chief promises talks on political gridlock

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Lebanese anti-government protesters react during a demonstration against the on-going trash crisis and government corruption, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. Thousands of people began gathering Saturday amid tight security in downtown Beirut, ahead of a major rally to protest government corruption and the country's dysfunctional political system. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT — Lebanon's parliament speaker on Sunday promised high-level talks to try to find a way out of long-running political gridlock that sparked large anti-government protests, including this weekend.

Speaker Nabih Berri told supporters that change should come from within the system, rebuffing calls by protesters for the resignation of the Cabinet or individual ministers.

Several protest rallies this month were sparked by a summer trash crisis, with garbage piling up in Beirut after the government closed a main landfill without having prepared an alternative.

Underlying the frustration is Lebanon's dysfunctional political system, based on sectarianism and patronage. Political influence is divvied up among religious groups, with the prime minister's job traditionally going to a Sunni Muslim, the presidency to a Christian and the parliament speaker's post to a Shiite Muslim. Growing deadlock has prevented timely elections for parliament and a new president.

Berri called on the prime minister and the heads of parliamentary factions to meet in early September to chart a path toward holding elections.

The speaker decried sectarianism, saying he repeatedly tried to change the system — yet delivered his message to supporters waving the green flags of the Shiite movement Amal. "Every time, sectarianism proves to be stronger than me and the parliament," he said.

Berri said the government should not resign over the recent protests.

"In Amal, we insist on our sticking to the government and revitalizing it to answer the rightful demands" for change, he said.

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