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Lebanese Newspaper to Close, Blaming Country's Political Problems

A copy of Lebanese newspaper As-Safir is displayed in front of other newspapers at a shop in Sidon, southern Lebanon, March 24, 2016.

Lebanese daily As-Safir is to cease its print and online operations after over 40 years, editor-in-chief and publisher Talal Salman said Thursday, blaming falling revenues and Lebanon's political and sectarian problems.

As-Safir, founded by Salman in 1974 with the slogan "a voice for those who have no voice," will end publication March 31.

It is close to the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah.

In a situation faced by print media around the world, Lebanese dailies al-Nahar and al-Liwa have also indicated they are facing financial difficulties because of falling circulation and advertising income.

But Salman has said the country's political environment also contributed to the problems of the Lebanese press.

Lebanon has a paralyzed political system and sectarian tensions left over from a civil war that ended around 15 years ago. These have increased with Syria's civil war next door.

The government has not passed a budget since 2005 and has been without a president for almost two years.

Lebanon's economy grew 8 percent a year between 2007 and 2010, but growth has been relatively sluggish since the collapse of a unity government and the start of Syria's uprising in 2011.

Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at only 2 percent in 2014.

"We tried and tried and tried and in the end the great sectarian divide took its first victim — the media, which is supposed to be the one guiding a unified national public," Salman told Reuters.

"The press is connected with political life. In Lebanon there is no politics and no political life whatsoever," he said.

"This is a country without a state, with no institutions and no president."

In an editorial in his paper this week, Salman said the demise of his and other papers in Lebanon — a country famed across the Arab world for its press freedom — threatens the nation's claim to be the "country of freedom."

The decision to close As-Safir ("The Ambassador" in Arabic) will be formally announced March 30 at a news conference.

"We have announced the death, but we await the funeral," Salman said.