Lebanon’s leading candidate to form a new government withdraws from race

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The leading candidate to form a new government in Lebanon withdrew his name and backed out of the race Tuesday, amid growing calls by protesters for an independent government free of traditional political parties.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked all MPs to withdraw his name from any potential political consultations with the president aimed at designating a new premier.

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“I had committed not to take a political position before … having completed contacts with friendly countries, the international community and Lebanese political forces,” Hariri said in a statement.

Lebanon has been without a government since Aug. 10 when now caretaker-Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his resignation as a result of the Beirut explosions, which left close to 200 people dead and thousands more injured.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut in the days after the deadly blasts and called for a national unity government agreed upon by all political sides.

Read more: French President Macron rips into Lebanese political elite after Beirut explosions

However, protesters expressed their frustration with the entire ruling elite and called for a government independent of traditional political parties, allied with various regional and international axes.

Hariri stepped down as prime minister in October 2019 after nationwide anti-government protests erupted in Lebanon, demanding an end to corruption and frustrated with a crumbling economy and dire living standards.

In the days and weeks after the Aug. 4 explosions, the international community has rushed to send humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people, often stressing willingness to deal directly with the residents and not the government.

“I consider that the renewed international interest in our country … represents an opportunity which could be the last … to achieve a series of reforms that the Lebanese have demanded,” Hariri said Tuesday.

Hariri thanked those who put his name forward as a candidate to head a new government, while he criticized “certain political forces” for still being in a state of “several denial of the reality of Lebanon.”

“I declare that I am not a candidate to head the new government and I call on everyone to withdraw my name from the deliberations in this regard.,” Hariri said.

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