France supports idea by Lebanese politician to end cabinet logjam

Lebanon's problems were compounded by a devastating explosion on Aug. 4 at Beirut port

  
A man uses a water hose to put out the remains of a fire that broke out at Beirut's port yesterday, Lebanon September 11, 2020.

A man uses a water hose to put out the remains of a fire that broke out at Beirut's port yesterday, Lebanon September 11, 2020.

REUTERS/Aziz Taher

BEIRUT/PARIS- France backed on Wednesday a proposal by a former Lebanese prime minister that could help break a deadlock blocking formation of Lebanon's new cabinet amid the Middle East nation's worst crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.

Paris has been pressing politicians for the quick formation of a government that will draw up reforms to tackle corruption and help attract international aid to fix an economy drowning in debt and struggling after a massive explosion at Beirut port.

Lebanese Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli said he now saw "promising possibilities" for an end to the cabinet logjam.

The process of forming a cabinet hit the buffers this month after Lebanon's two main Shi'ite Muslim parties insisted they pick some cabinet posts, including the finance minister, which has been held by a Shi'ite for years.

Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon's sectarian system of power-sharing, had sought to shake up ministerial positions with a new cabinet of specialists.

Former prime minister Saad al-Hariri, a leading Sunni politician, offered a way out by proposing on Tuesday that an "independent" Shi'ite candidate be named as finance minister.

"This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a government of mission can now be established," the French Foreign Ministry said.

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

"There are promising possibilities that can be built on, but we have to wait a bit," the deputy parliament speaker said, after Hariri's proposal and following talks with Nabih Berri, the powerful Shi'ite parliament speaker.

Berri has picked previous finance ministers. His Amal Movement and the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah group, the two dominant Shi'ite parties, have insisted the ministerial post remain under Shi'ite control.

President Michel Aoun, a Christian allied to Hezbollah, said on Monday Lebanon was going "to hell" if it could not form a government to ease a crisis that has paralysed the banks, sent Lebanon's pound into freefall and plunged many into poverty.

Lebanon's problems were compounded by the devastating Aug. 4 blast at Beirut port. Subsequent fires in and around the area and an explosion on Tuesday in south Lebanon have further rattled the nation. 

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut and John Irish in Paris Writing by Ellen Francis and Edmund Blair Editing by Mark Heinrich) ((Ellen.Francis@thomsonreuters.com;))

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