Lebanon’s new PM-designate begins consultations over next Cabinet

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Lebanon’s newly designated prime minister began his consultations on Saturday with parliamentary blocs to discuss the shape of the future government.

Hassan Diab, a university professor and former education minister, will have to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. He’s also taking office against the backdrop of ongoing nationwide protests against the country’s ruling elite.

The consultations began a day after scuffles broke out in Beirut and other areas between supporters of the outgoing prime minister, Saad Hariri, and Lebanese troops and riot policemen. The ex-premier’s supporters were protesting Diab’s nomination. The scuffles left at least seven soldiers injured.

Diab began his meetings Saturday at parliament with Speaker Nabih Berri, then held talks with former prime ministers, including caretaker premier Hariri.

The two men had also met the previous day, when Diab said he plans to form a government of experts and independents to deal with the country’s crippling economic crisis.

Lebanese banks have imposed unprecedented capital controls over the past weeks. Thousands have lost their jobs, while the economy is expected to contract in 2020.

Hariri cautioned his supports Saturday against violent protests, saying: “The army is ours and police forces are for all Lebanese.”

A lawmaker from the bloc led by the Shia Amal group - headed by parliament speaker Berri - said the incoming government should focus on fighting corruption.

“It should be an emergency government that works on solving the economic, financial, social and banking crisis,” said Anwar al-Khalil after the meeting with Diab.

The new prime minister won a majority of lawmakers’ votes after receiving backing from Hezbollah group and its allies, which have a majority of seats in parliament.

However, he lacks the support of major Sunni figures, including the largest Sunni party headed by Hariri.

That’s particularly problematic for Diab, who, as a Sunni, doesn’t have the backing of his own community. And under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing agreement, the prime minister must be Sunni.

Hezbollah had backed Hariri for prime minister from the start, but the group differed with him over the shape of the new government.

Lebanon’s sustained, leaderless protests erupted in mid-October, and forced Hariri’s resignation within days. But politicians were later unable to agree on a new prime minister. The ongoing protests and paralysis have worsened the economic crisis.

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