Thick Fog and Fires as Lebanon Protesters Weigh options in Political Crisis

( Fox News )- Dressed in black and waved pictures of murdered, anti-Syrian protester Mohammad Jawad al-Taher, protesters gathered at major bridges in Beirut and blocked them by burning tires, heading to the southern suburbs to demonstrate against President Michel Aoun and parliament, where another group of protesters clashed with police.

Videos posted on social media showed large streams of garbage burning in streets, and a large fire burning on road.

Protesters in Beirut want Mr. Aoun to appoint a new prime minister and say parliament’s failure to elect a new president has sparked panic among the nation’s 46 million people.

A statement posted on Mr. Aoun’s Facebook page said the president was “constantly engaged” to resolve the country’s political woes, calling on all political and social forces to reach an understanding.

The protesters say Mr. Aoun does not represent their views.

Lebanon has been mired in political conflict since the country’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990. Relations are bitter between the Shiite group Hezbollah and its ally President Aoun, who holds the largely ceremonial post of president and relies on Hezbollah to bolster his military forces.

Later Tuesday, the city of Tripoli was rocked by clashes between mostly Sunni Sunni groups and Alawites, the Shiite sect to which President Bashar Assad belongs.

Lawyers holding demonstrations in Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli called on their followers to fight in solidarity against the Alawite regime.

The protesters say Lebanon should not take sides in Syria’s civil war, which threatens to engulf the country in sectarian warfare that would engulf the entire region.

France’s defense minister said the country would halt arms sales to Lebanon unless a new government is formed to address the country’s economic problems.

Speaking on French radio, Florence Parly said it is “not acceptable” that the Lebanese Army doesn’t get its voice heard in the political talks.

Lebanon is struggling to cope with an economic crisis stemming from low oil and gas revenues, while it also struggles to reconcile its need for billions of dollars in foreign aid with the large budget deficit and a debt that stands at more than 150 percent of its GDP.

Parly said the French government will put forward an economic aid plan to address the Lebanese government’s needs at the start of 2019. She said France will try to convince other countries to join the plan.

Earlier Tuesday, Parly held talks with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh on the status of French troops in the country.

France currently has 1,500 troops deployed in Djibouti at Camp Lemonnier. It also has about 1,000 soldiers stationed in Chad as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission to stabilize neighboring conflict-ridden Darfur.

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