Hariri named as Lebanon's new prime minister


FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 21, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT, (Reuters) - Lebanon's President Michel Aoun designated Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri as prime minister on Thursday to form a new government to tackle the worst crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

Hariri won the backing of a majority of parliamentarians in consultations with Aoun. He faces major challenges to navigate Lebanon's power-sharing politics and agree a cabinet, which must then address a mounting list of woes: a banking crisis, currency crash, rising poverty and crippling state debts.

A new government will also have to contend with a COVID-19 surge and the fallout of the huge August explosion at Beirut port that killed nearly 200 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Sunni leader Hariri's last coalition government was toppled almost exactly a year ago as protests gripped the country, furious at Lebanon's ruling elite.

Thursday's nomination follows weeks of political wrangling that has delayed a deal on a new government.

Hariri was backed by his own Future lawmakers, the Shi'ite Amal party, Druze politician Walid Jumblatt's party and other small blocs.

The Shi'ite group Hezbollah said it was not nominating anyone, but added it would seek to facilitate the process.

"We will contribute to maintain the positive climate," Mohammed Raad, head of its parliamentary bloc, told reporters at the presidential palace.

The FPM led by Aoun's son-in-law, which has the largest Christian bloc, said it would not nominate Hariri.

The second main Christian party and a staunch Hezbollah opponent, the Lebanese Forces, also declined to name Hariri, saying a veteran politician should not lead a planned cabinet of specialists.

"Has this political class that took people hostage learned that they cannot continue in this way?" MP Georges Adwan said. "It is now facing a test."

Former colonial power France has tried rallying Lebanon's sectarian leaders to pull the nation from crisis, but has been frustrated by the apparent lack of urgency or progress.

Hariri has presented himself as the "natural candidate" to build a cabinet that can revive the French roadmap, which set out reforms needed to trigger foreign aid. He has also said that Lebanon must agree an IMF reform programme to escape the crisis.

Thursday's consultations were postponed from last week amid political rifts. Aoun is required to choose the candidate with the most support from lawmakers. Iran-backed Hezbollah and its political allies - including the party founded by Aoun and Shi'ite Amal - have a majority in parliament.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Maha El Dahan, Laila Bassam and Dominic Evans, Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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