Lebanon PM-designate cites 'slow progress' on govt formation

AFP , Thursday 5 Aug 2021

Mikati refused to set himself a deadline to present a finalised cabinet line-up

 Najib Mikat
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati, speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 28, 2021. REUTERS

Talks on forming a new Lebanese government are progressing slowly, premier-designate Najib Mikati said Thursday, a day after police cracked down on protesters during the grim first anniversary of a deadly port blast.

"We made progress today, and even if the progress was slow, we are determined to form a government," Mikati said after meeting with President Michel Aoun.

The meeting was a "positive step forward", Mikati told reporters, but refused to set himself a deadline to present a finalised cabinet line-up.

Lebanon is facing one of the world's worst economic crises in modern history.

But its deeply divided politicians have for more than 11 months failed to agree on a new government to launch reforms, a key condition to unlock billions of dollars in international financial aid.

The government of Hassan Diab, who is still caretaker prime minister, resigned en masse last summer after a huge explosion of fertiliser at the Beirut port killed at least 214 people.

Mikati, who has been prime minister twice before and is also the country's richest man, was designated on July 26 to form a government after his two predecessors threw in the towel.

Thousands gathered near the Beirut port on Wednesday as Lebanon marked one year since hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded on the dockside.

All paid tribute to the victims, but many expressed anger that officials who had known about the hazardous materials stored unsafely at the port for years had still not been held to account.

Dozens were hurt when Lebanese police clashed with protesters demanding accountability over the disaster.

A donor conference on Wednesday collected $370 million in pledges for urgent humanitarian aid for the Lebanese people, but the international community has held back on any financial aid to the cash-strapped state.

Last month's designation of 65-year-old Mikati, seen by many as a symbol of Lebanon's beleagured oligarchy, was met with scepticism both at home and abroad.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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