Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Consultations on new Lebanese government slated for Tuesday

Protesters closed major roads in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon after reopening them at the weekend

Consultations between Lebanon's President Michel Aoun and the country's parliamentary blocs are set to begin on Tuesday, a week after the government's resignation.

Facing a largely non-sectarian movement against corruption and inequality, the parties will look into who could lead the next government and distribution of Cabinet posts among established parties and independents.

Protesters, who have refused to stop demonstrating until their demands are met, closed major roads in Beirut and elsewhere on Monday after they were reopened at the weekend.

They blocked roads in the northern city of Tripoli and south of Beirut in the Khalde area on the main motorway to southern Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Many schools, universities and businesses were also closed on Monday.

On one of Beirut’s main avenues, protesters distributed leaflets apologising for closing roads but saying they would remain closed until an independent government was formed.

Mr Aoun has asked the departing government led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new one can be formed.

But Lebanon has entered a phase of acute political uncertainty, even by its own standards.

Mr Aoun on Monday discussed the situation with the UN special co-ordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, telling him that the next government's priority would be "to follow up on fighting corruption by opening investigations in all state institutions".

Meanwhile, a financial prosecutor has filed a case of overspending against the state's Council for Development and Reconstruction and private companies over the construction of a dam in northern Lebanon, NNA reported. Such cases are rare in the country.

Also on Monday, Mr Hariri met Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, to whom the protesters are severely opposed, over forming a new Cabinet. Mr Bassil is Mr Aoun's son-in-law and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement party.

Mr Aoun, a Maronite Christian, is allied to the powerful, Iran-backed group Hezbollah

Under Lebanon's sectarian system of government, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite.

On Sunday, Mr Aoun called for protesters to unite against corruption and support the new non-sectarian government he is trying to form.

Thousands of anti-government protesters and his supporters met in different areas of Beirut on Sunday evening.

The leaderless anti-government movement has united Lebanese from various sects, and is calling for the overthrow of the political system that has dominated since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

The agreement ending the war distributed power among Christians and Shiite and Sunni Muslims, but led to decades of corruption and economic mismanagement leading to a severe fiscal crisis.

At noon on Sunday, Mr Aoun addressed thousands of his supporters at a rally near the presidential palace in Baabda.

“There are lots of squares and no one should pit one against another, or one demonstration against another,” he said.

“Corruption will not end easily because it has been deeply rooted for decades. The people have revolted because their rights are missing.

“The people have lost confidence in the state and this is the big problem. We should restore the state’s confidence.”

But some expressed little faith in Mr Aoun's promises.

With a power-sharing system organised along communal and sectarian lines, the allocation of ministerial posts can typically take months, a delay demonstrators say the country can ill afford.

"The people and the politicians are living on two different clouds," Steven, 34, from the Bekaa Valley, said on Monday as he was blocking a key flyover in Beirut.

"The president hasn't even called on Parliament to discuss the formation of a new government."

Hours after Mr Aoun spoke on Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in a square in Beirut's city centre, calling for the government to hasten the political transition after Mr Hariri’s resignation last week.

They also called for a general strike on Monday to put pressure on political leaders. The last nationwide strike took pace in late October, on the fifth day of the protests.

The city-centre protesters chanted against Mr Aoun and the country’s political establishment, saying “all of them” should go.

They were the largest protests in Beirut since last Tuesday when scores of Hezbollah supporters attacked an anti-government sit-in, injuring some of the demonstrators.

A semblance of normality gradually returned to the country last week after Mr Hariri's resignation, and banks opened for the first time in two weeks on Friday.

Updated: November 5, 2019 12:24 AM

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