Lebanon government to be announced Friday, PM-designate tells local media
- Mikati has said he’ll seek new IMF talks
- New gov’t follows year of political impasse
- Crisis is worst since Lebanon’s civil war
- C.bank official to take finance portfolio-sources
BEIRUT, Sept 10 (Reuters) – A new Lebanese government will be announced on Friday, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati was quoted as saying, after a year of political fighting over cabinet seats that has exacerbated the country’s devastating economic collapse.
The government formation is expected to open the way for a resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund over the crisis that has sunk the currency by some 90% since 2019 and forced three quarters of the population into poverty.
The crisis is the worst since Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, and has triggered growing concern in the West and warnings of worse to come.
Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, told news outlet Lebanon 24 he was due to visit President Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian head of state, later on Friday and the government would be announced in the afternoon.
The presidency said on Twitter that Mikati would meet Aoun, but without saying if they had reached an agreement.
Political sources told Reuters that Youssef Khalil, a senior central bank official and aide to governor Riad Salameh, would be named finance minister in the proposed new cabinet line-up.
Like the outgoing cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the new one is expected to comprise ministers with technical expertise who are not prominent politicians but have been named by the main parties.
The heavily armed, Shi’ite Islamist movement Hezbollah, a political ally of Aoun which is designated a terrorist group by the United States, is expected to have named two of the 24 ministers, sources said.
One official source told Reuters the cabinet line-up Mikati would present to Aoun was promising. Political sources said there had been intensive contacts through the night to try to reach an agreement.
The crisis, which came to a head in late 2019, stems from decades of corruption in the state and unsustainable financing.
The steadily deteriorating situation worsened precipitiously in August when the central bank announced it could no longer finance fuel imports at heavily subsidised exchange rates.
Fuel shortages brought much of life to a standstill last month and triggered numerous security incidents, fuelling concern in the West about the country that was splintered by civil war from 1975-90.
The failure to agree a cabinet has left Lebanon without any effective government as the country has sunk deeper into a crisis which the World Bank has described as one of the sharpest implosions of modern times.
NO BLOCKING THIRD
Mikati, a politician-businessman who was designated prime minister in July, has previously said he would seek to re-start negotiations with the IMF once his government was formed.
The cabinet formation has been derailed repeatedly by disagreements among political factions over the distribution of cabinet seats.
Mikati is the third prime minister-designate to attempt to form the government since the government resigned over a year ago in the aftermath of the Beirut port blast amidst the worsening economic meltdown.
Mikati was designated after Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister, abandoned his efforts. Hariri traded blame for the failure with Aoun, an ally of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Aoun’s political adversaries have accused him and his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, of seeking effective veto power in the new government by demanding a third of the seats. Aoun has denied this repeatedly.
In his comments to Lebanon 24, Mikati said there was no blocking third in the government line-up.
Reporting By Maha El Dahan; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean
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