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|12 December, 2018

Lebanese leaders show new optimism on ending government deadlock

Lebanese leaders expressed fresh confidence on Wednesday about reaching a deal to form a new government

The faithful wave Lebanon flags as Pope Benedict XVI leads the Angelus prayer from the window of his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo image used for illustrative purpose

The faithful wave Lebanon flags as Pope Benedict XVI leads the Angelus prayer from the window of his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo image used for illustrative purpose

REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

BEIRUT/LONDON- Lebanese leaders expressed fresh confidence on Wednesday about reaching a deal to form a new government, with President Michel Aoun saying results of his efforts to break the months-long deadlock would appear this week.

A group of Hezbollah-aligned lawmakers at the heart of the logjam said they backed Aoun's efforts but a solution had yet to be found, blaming on Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri.

Heavily indebted and with a stagnant economy, Lebanon desperately needs a new government to implement economic reforms to put its public finances on a more sustainable footing and unlock foreign aid.

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A general election in May led to months of wrangling between rival parties to form a coalition under a political system that parcels out government posts among Muslim and Christian sects.

The heavily armed Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah and its allies emerged stronger from the election. Hariri, who enjoys Western support, lost more than one-third of his seats, though he remains Lebanon's most influential Sunni politician.

The final hurdle to a deal has been over Sunni representation, with the six Sunnis that are aligned with Hezbollah demanding a cabinet seat to reflect their gains in the election. Hariri has ruled out giving up one of his cabinet seats for them.

Analysts believe one compromise could be for Aoun to nominate one of the Hezbollah-aligned Sunnis, or a figure acceptable to them, among a group of ministers named by the president.

On Tuesday, Aoun said the government formation could not be resolved in the traditional way between the prime minister-designate and other parties, and that he had to get involved to avoid "catastrophe" - an apparent reference to the economy.

Aoun, who is also an ally of Hezbollah, said the results of his new effort would appear "in the next two days".

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was cited as saying he was "optimistic for the possibility of a solution soon" and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Lebanon would definitely form a new government "despite all obstacles".

(Reporting By Karin Strohecker in London and Dahlia Nehme and Ellen Francis in Beirut Writing by Angus McDowall and Tom Perry in Beirut Editing by Mark Heinrich and Robin Pomeroy) ((angus.mcdowall@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: angus.mcdowall.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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