France backs Lebanese politician’s idea to end cabinet lockdown

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BEIRUT / PARIS (Reuters) – France on Wednesday backed a proposal by a former Lebanese prime minister that could help break a deadlock blocking the formation of the new Lebanese cabinet amid the Middle East’s worst crisis since the war 1975-90 calendar.

FILE PHOTO: Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks to media after a session of the United Nations-backed Tribunal in Lebanon that delivered judgment in the case of four men tried in absentia for the 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others, in Leidschendam, the Netherlands, on August 18, 2020. REUTERS / Piroschka Van De Wouw

Paris has lobbied politicians for the swift formation of a government that will craft reforms to tackle corruption and help attract international aid to fix an economy drowned in debt and struggling after a massive explosion in the port of Beirut.

Deputy Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Elie Ferzli, said he now sees “promising possibilities” to end the cabinet deadlock.

The cabinet-forming process hit the buffers this month after Lebanon’s two main Shia Muslim parties insisted they choose certain cabinet positions, including that of finance minister, who is held by a Shiite for years.

Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim subject to the Lebanese sectarian system of power-sharing, had sought to shift ministerial positions with a new cabinet of specialists.

Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a prominent Sunni politician, offered a way out by proposing on Tuesday that an “independent” Shia candidate be appointed finance minister.

“This declaration represents an opening and all parties must understand its importance so that a mission government can now be established,” the French foreign ministry said.

France, a former colonial power, has spearheaded international efforts to end the crisis. Lebanese politicians have already failed to deliver on their pledge to French President Emmanuel Macron to choose a cabinet by mid-September.

“There are promising possibilities that we can build on, but we have to wait a bit,” said the deputy speaker of the parliament, after Hariri’s proposal and after discussions with Nabih Berri, the powerful speaker of the parliament Shiite.

Berri chose former finance ministers. His Amal movement and the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah group, the two dominant Shia parties, have insisted that the ministerial post remain under Shia control.

President Michel Aoun, a Christian ally of Hezbollah, said on Monday that Lebanon would go “to hell” if it could not form a government to alleviate a crisis that has crippled banks, brought down the Lebanese pound in free fall and very much in poverty.

Lebanon’s problems were compounded by the devastating August 4 explosion at the port of Beirut. The fires that followed in and around the region and an explosion Tuesday in southern Lebanon shook the country again.

Report by Ellen Francis and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Ellen Francis and Edmund Blair; Edited by Mark Heinrich

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