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Lebanon's Hariri abandons effort to form govt

Tom Perry

Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri on Thursday abandoned an attempt to form a government with rival groups including Hezbollah.

Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri on Thursday abandoned an attempt to form a government with rival groups including Hezbollah, blaming opponents for blocking his efforts.

The Syria- and Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies rejected a draft unity government proposed by Hariri this week, more than 10 weeks after he was designated prime minister.

Hariri, a Saudi- and United States-backed billionaire businessman, said he had held “rounds and rounds of consultations which always ended in obstruction”. Leading opposition politician Gebran Bassil blamed Hariri for the failure.

Hariri announced his decision after a meeting with President Michel Suleiman, who must now call for consultations with lawmakers to designate a new prime minister.

Suleiman is obliged to nominate the candidate with the greatest support among lawmakers. Hariri, leader of the majority coalition in Parliament, is widely expected to be picked once again. Hariri’s coalition defeated Shi’ite Hezbollah and its allies in a June 7 parliamentary election.

Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni politician, said he hoped his move would “set in motion the wheel of dialogue ... that ends with the establishment of a government”.

His failure to form a unity government has fuelled concern over the potential for another protracted political crisis in Lebanon, where power struggles have brought long periods of government paralysis and violence in recent years.

The rival alliances had agreed on the broad division of seats in the new Cabinet but could not agree on the details of who should control which ministry. Hariri had refused to yield to the demands of Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun, leader of the biggest Christian bloc in Parliament.

At the heart of the dispute was Aoun’s demand that his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, keep his job as telecoms minister.

The telecoms sector has long been slated for reforms, including the privatisation of two cellphone firms.

“It is now clear to the Lebanese who is behind the delay,” Bassil told Reuters, in reference to Hariri. “The theatre of obstruction that lasted 73 days has finished today,” he said.

Analysts say the delay in forming the cabinet is partly due to the failure of influential regional states such as Saudi Arabia and Syria to persuade their Lebanese allies to compromise.

The draft proposal put forward by Hariri this week gave two seats in the new Cabinet to Hezbollah, a heavily armed group listed as a terrorist organisation by the US.

The group, which has wide support among Lebanese Shi’ites, has one seat in the outgoing Cabinet. The current government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, stays on in a caretaker capacity until a new Cabinet is formed.—Reuters

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