Pope urges Lebanese leaders to shun partisanship, fix broken country

VATICAN CITY, July 1 (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Thursday urged the leaders of Lebanon, which is mired in a financial depression and facing its worst social crisis in 30 years, to put aside partisan interests and work for peace and stability.

Francis made the appeal at the end of a day-long summit with Lebanese Christian leaders in the Vatican to discuss how religions can help the country get back on its feet.

He also repeated his wish to visit Lebanon, which is still reeling from a huge chemical explosion at the Beirut port last year that killed 200 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

"I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests," Francis said.

"Let there be an end to the few profiting from the

sufferings of many! No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations," he said during a closing prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica, much of it conducted in Arabic.

Lebanon is battling a deep financial crisis, which the World Bank has called one of the worst depressions of modern history.

It has pushed more than half the population into poverty and the currency has lost more than 90% of its value in about two years.

Francis said Lebanese were "disillusioned and weary...in need of certainty, hope and peace"

Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, a Muslim, has been at loggerheads for months with President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, over cabinet positions.

In his closing address, Francis also said Lebanon and the Middle East should not be used "for outside interests and profits".

Iranian influence has been on the rise in Lebanon over the past years through Hezbollah, the armed Shi'ite group whose political power has grown. Iran's sway has so far put rich Gulf Arab states off coming to Lebanon's rescue.

Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Beirut; editing by Toby Chopra and Angus MacSwan

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