Nov 21, 11:17 AM EST

Lebanon PM cancels independence day celebrations

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BEIRUT (AP) -- Lebanon's prime minister on Friday cancelled official independence day celebrations planned for the following day, a move that likely stemmed from the country's tense security situation and an impasse over electing its next president.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam cited the "current situation" for scrapping all government-hosted celebrations and a parade on Saturday, according to a terse statement on state-run media.

Lebanon has been without a president since May because bickering politicians, embroiled in disagreements related mostly to the war in neighboring Syria, haven't been able to agree on a figure acceptable to all.

The president is an important symbolic figure in Lebanon selected from the country's Maronite Christian minority.

Security is shaky in Lebanon, yet another side effect of Syria's civil war. Most recently in October, Lebanese hard-liners inspired by militants in Syria clashed with soldiers in the northern town of Tripoli for four days.

Lebanon's army chief on Friday described the militants as seeking to create an "emirate of darkness," stretching from Lebanon's eastern border with Syria to the sea.

Gen. Jean Kahwaji's comments echoed that of Lebanese politicians who have said that the militants, some loyal to the Islamic State group, have sought to carve out a proto-state in the country's north, similar to the caliphate declared by the Islamic State group on captured territory in Syria and Iraq.

President Barack Obama said in a message for Lebanon Friday that the United States regrets that this anniversary day passes without an elected president, "an important but missing symbol of the unity of the nation and a key factor in promoting Lebanese sovereignty and stability."

The message that was released by the U.S. embassy in Beirut quoted Obama as saying Washington will continue to stand with "our Lebanese partners in the face of the threat extremists pose to our countries and the world."

The U.S. has been speeding up delivery of ammunition to help Lebanon's military combat jihadi groups. Washington has provided more than $1 billion in military assistance to Lebanon since 2006.

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