Lebanon's prime minister designate Hariri quits

Hariri quits after 10 weeks trying to form unity govt


Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri said on Thursday he was stepping down after the opposition rejected a team he proposed earlier this week after more than 10 weeks of trying to form a unity government.

"Given that my commitment to forming a government of national unity has run up against difficulties that everyone now knows about, I announce that I have informed the president of the republic that I have abandoned trying to form a government," he told journalists in Beirut.

"I will step down from forming a government, in the hope that this decision will be for the benefit of Lebanon."

The Syria- and Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies rejected a draft government proposed by Hariri this week. Hariri, a Saudi- and U.S.-backed billionaire, said he had held "rounds and rounds of consultations which always ended in obstruction."

President Michel Suleiman is expected to call for a new round of consultations with lawmakers to nominate a new prime minister. It is widely expected that Hariri will be selected once again by members of his majority coalition.

I will step down from forming a government, in the hope that this decision will be for the benefit of Lebanon

Saad al-Hariri

The announcement comes after more than two months of fruitless efforts to form a government following June elections. The rejection of Hariri's proposed team sparked fears of new political crisis in a country where bickering led to deadly fighting only last year.

On Monday, Hariri proposed a 30-seat coalition cabinet to Sleiman, more than three months after his alliance won a general election but was criticized by Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah and it was rejected by the opposition.

Tough negotiations in the wake of the June 12 election led to a deal on the number of ministers each political camp would have in the cabinet, with 15 going to Hariri's alliance, 10 to the opposition and the president appointing the remaining five.

However, the various factions have been unable to agree on just who gets what ministries.

On Tuesday, pro-opposition daily as-Safir, ran a headline saying: "The imposed government fails politically, Hariri to resign."

"The prime minister-designate did it, perhaps after having been given the green light from countries abroad, and threw the ball of fire -- the cabinet formation -- into the hands of the president," as-Safir said.

Naming ministers on behalf of the opposition was a step too far, as-Safir said.

A political crisis erupted in 2006 after all Shiite ministers resigned from the cabinet. It degenerated in May 2008 when sectarian fighting broke out in Beirut, in the worst bloodshed since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

The crisis was resolved the same month when Qatar brokered a deal for the formation of a national unity government.

The press speculated on Thursday that if Hariri did renounce efforts to form a government, Sleiman might reappoint him after first consulting with MPs.