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Lebanon forms new government, breaking deadlock


Urging fractious politicians to work together, Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati pledged to halt the country’s crushing economic collapse. This is the first new government in over a year in Lebanon, and hopes are it has come just in time to take the reins over a guide the country back to prosperity. The Associated Press has the story:

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since the catastrophic Aug. 4, 2020, explosion at Beirut port

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati pledged Friday to do everything in his power to halt the country’s dramatic economic collapse, urging fractious politicians to work together after a new government was announced — the first in over a year.

Holding back tears, Mikati, one of the richest men in the country, spoke about Lebanese mothers who cannot feed their children, and students whose parents can no longer afford to send them to school.

FILE – In this July 17, 2020 file photo, a woman looks at a homeless Lebanese man sleeping on the ground in Hamra street, in Beirut, Lebanon. Minister of Tourism and Social Affairs Ramzi Moucharafieh said Thursday, Sept 9, 2021, during a news conference, in Beirut that the government will start paying cash assistance next month to hundreds of thousands of poor families – in U.S. dollars – as the small nation sinks deeper into its economic crisis. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

“The situation is difficult but not impossible to deal with if we cooperate,” Mikati told reporters at the presidential palace, where the new government was announced.

The agreement breaks a 13-month deadlock that saw the country slide deeper into financial chaos and poverty over the past year.

Lebanon has been without a fully empowered government since the catastrophic Aug. 4, 2020, explosion at Beirut port, which forced the resignation of then Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government. Rival political groups had been locked in disagreement over the make-up of a new government since then, hastening the country’s economic meltdown.

The new Cabinet of 24 ministers headed by Mikati, a billionaire businessman, was announced by the president’s office, and later by the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Mahmoud Makkieh. Ministers were handpicked by the same politicians who have ruled the country for the past decades, blamed by many for corruption and mismanagement leading to the country’s current crisis.

FILE – This Aug. 5, 2020 file photo, shows the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. As Lebanon sinks deeper into poverty and collapse, many Lebanese are more openly criticizing the Iran-backed Hezbollah, blaming it for its role in the devastating, multiple crises plaguing the country. This includes a dramatic currency crash and severe shortages in medicines and fuel that has paralyzed the country. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)

Many of them, however, are experts in their field, including Firas Abiad, director general of the public hospital leading the coronavirus fight who has won praise for his transparency in handling the pandemic. A top Central Bank official, Youssef Khalil, was appointed as finance minister, and Bassam Mawlawi, a judge, is the new interior minister.

The new government faces a mammoth task that few believe can be surmounted, including undertaking critically needed reforms. Among its first jobs will be managing public anger and tensions resulting from the lifting of fuel subsidies expected by the end of the month, overseeing a financial audit of the Central Bank, and resuming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package. The new Cabinet is also expected to oversee general elections scheduled for next year.

Mikati, a businessman tycoon from the northern city of Tripoli, was tasked with forming a new government in July. He is widely considered to be part of the same political class that brought the country to bankruptcy. He served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2013.

“I hope we can fulfill people’s aspirations and at least stop the collapse,” he said Friday. He said the government will launch a rescue plan for the country.

It was not immediately clear what sudden compromise resulted in the breakthrough Friday. The announcement of a new government comes after recent U.S. and French pressure to form a Cabinet, after Lebanon’s economic unraveling reached a critical point with crippling shortages in fuel and medicine threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and the country’s internet.

A protester burns tires to block a main road during a protest against the increase in prices of consumer goods and the crash of the local currency, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Scattered protests broke out on Tuesday in different parts of the country after the Lebanese pound hit a new record low against the dollar on the black market. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The currency has lost 90 percent of its value to the dollar since October 2019, driving hyperinflation and plunging more than half the population in poverty.

Mikati became a favorite for the post after he was endorsed by most of Lebanon’s political parties, including the powerful Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group and the other major Shiite party, Amal, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Mikati was also endorsed by former Sunni prime ministers including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who abandoned efforts to form a government earlier this year after failing to agree with President Michel Aoun on the Cabinet’s makeup.

The international community has refused to help Lebanon financially before wide reforms are implemented to fight widespread corruption and mismanagement.


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