PM-designate Hariri’s stepping down deepens political crisis in Lebanon

Photo: AP

Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down on Thursday over what he called “key differences” with the president, deepening a political crisis that has left the Lebanese without a government for nine month amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, news wires reported.

With no clear candidate to replace Hariri, Lebanon is likely to slide deeper into chaos and uncertainty. Prospects for forming a government to undertake desperately needed reforms and talks for a recovery package with the International Monetary Fund are now even more remote.

Poverty has soared in the past several months and dire shortages of medicines, fuel and electricity have marked what the World Bank describes as one of the world’s worst economic crisis of the past 150 years.

“I have excused myself from forming the government,” Hariri said after a 20-minute meeting with President Michel Aoun. “May God help the country.”

Later, Hariri, one of Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni Muslim leaders, told Al-Jadeed TV that he has no intention of endorsing a replacement. According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based political system, the prime minister is picked from the ranks of Sunnis.

Aoun said he would soon set a date for consultations with parliamentary blocs on naming a new prime minister-designate.

Hariri told the TV that when this happens, his bloc would “consult with our friends and allies and see what to do.”

After news broke of Hariri stepping down, protesters — mostly his supporters — blocked roads and set fire to tires in several parts of Beirut, decrying the deepening crisis. Troops deployed to break up a protest at the edge of Beirut, firing in the air and using armored vehicles to open roads. Protesters pelted the soldiers with stones.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country ruled Lebanon for about 25 years until its independence after World War II, called the failure to form a new government “yet another terrible incident” demonstrating “the inability of the Lebanese leaders to find a solution to the crisis that they have generated.”

“They totally failed to acknowledge the political and economic situation of their country,” he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York after chairing a Security Council meeting on Libya.

“We are a few days from the first anniversary of the blast in Beirut” at the port that killed and wounded thousands, Le Drian said, cited by AFP. “It is somehow cynical destruction of the country that is ongoing, and this is just yet another step.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Hariri’s resignation “yet another disappointing development for the Lebanese people.” “It is critical that a government committed and able to implement priority reforms be formed now,” Blinken said in a statement.

In a last-ditch effort to end the deadlock, Hariri had proposed a 24-member Cabinet to Aoun on Wednesday, and said he expected a response from the president by Thursday. Aoun, who has blamed Hariri for the deadlock, said the premier-designate had rejected the idea of changing any names on the proposed list, indicating he already planned to step down and “was finding a pretext to justify his decision.”

Regional and international mediation has failed to bridge the differences between the Lebanese leaders. European Union Foreign policy Chief, Josep Borrell, said during a visit to Lebanon last month that a power struggle and a case of strong mistrust is at the heart of the political crisis.

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