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Kerry in Lebanon to show US support

US Secretary of State John Kerry is on an unannounced trip to Lebanon to bring Obama administration support to the country's government.

Lebanon is confronting severe difficulties, with an influx of refugees from next door in Syria and a political stalemate at home.

Mr Kerry arrived in Beirut to meet with Lebanese officials and others as they deal with both the fallout from the conflict in Syria and a seemingly intractable dispute over who will become the next Lebanese president.

Mr Kerry is expected to announce another 290 million US dollars (£173m) in aid for United Nations agencies working on the Syrian refugee issue throughout the region.

Lebanon, home to 4.5 million people, is struggling to cope with the presence of more than a million Syrian and Palestinian refugees in desperate need of housing, education and medical care.

A senior US official travelling with Mr Kerry said that in addition to discussing the refugee issue with Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the secretary would also press them to deal with the political crisis that has left the country without a president since last month.

Lebanon requires a "fully functioning" presidency in order to cope with tremendous challenges it faces, the official said, adding that although Washington has no favoured candidate, the US would like to see a new president in office as soon as possible.

Mr Kerry is the first secretary of state to visit Lebanon in five years; Hillary Clinton travelled there in April 2009. Mr Kerry travelled to Lebanon at least four times as a senator since 2006, the last time in November 2010.

The Lebanese are deeply split over the civil war in neighboring Syria and have lined up behind opposing sides in that conflict. Those deep divisions are among the reasons for the lack of agreement on a consensus candidate for the country's next president.

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