Lebanon’s president demands PM quit if he can’t form govt to tackle pandemic fallout and economic crisis

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The Lebanese Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, has been handed a dramatic ultimatum by the country’s president – to either form a new cabinet or quit, as the country remains paralyzed by a deep-seated economic crisis.

President Michel Aoun put Hariri on notice during a televised speech on Wednesday as he said the latter must form a government “without excuses or delays” in the hope of “saving Lebanon.” 

“If Prime Minister-designate Hariri finds himself unable to form a government…, he should make way for those who are,” Aoun said.

In October 2020, Hariri was tasked by Aoun with forming a new government to steer the country through deep economic uncertainty exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and further compounded by the Beirut port explosion in August.

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Hariri had pledged to bring in a technocratic government, but five months of talks have to date only resulted in a stalemate between the two leaders due to political disagreements.

Lebanon’s previous administration, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, resigned in the wake of the August 4 blast that killed more than 200 people, left thousands homeless, and destroyed a significant part of Beirut.

The country had been battling an economic crisis since at least 2019, and there are ongoing protests against alleged government corruption. In 2021 the Lebanese pound continued to lose value, and on Tuesday slid to a historic low of 15,000 against the US dollar.

Protests have continued this week as people take to the streets to voice their anger at poor living conditions and rising food prices caused by inflation.

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In Beirut on Wednesday armed clashes appeared to erupt as shown in footage posted to social media, with two men reportedly injured. Other unrest in and around the capital saw roads blocked after protesters set tires and other objects alight.

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