December 21, 2018 / 12:07 PM / 3 months ago

Lebanon's Hariri hopes government will be finalised on Friday

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri said he hoped to finalise a new national unity government on Friday after more than seven months of political wrangling.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

By the early evening, there was still no sign of an announcement. Lebanese politicians have indicated a government deal is close but have yet to declare a final agreement.

“Cross your fingers, don’t jinx me. I’m trying to work very hard to finalise today the government, Inshallah (God Willing). There are still some things to be done but I think we should be able to finalise,” Hariri told a Beirut business conference.

“God willing we will finish today.”

Efforts to form the government have been obstructed by conflicting demands for cabinet seats that must be parcelled out in line with a sectarian power-sharing system.

“We don’t know the circumstances that have not yielded the government today,” said Qassem Hashem, one of six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs who have together demanded a cabinet post, in the latest standoff blocking a deal.

“We leave matters up to the coming hours,” he said in TV comments on Friday evening, adding that talks would continue.

Heavily indebted and suffering from a stagnant economy, Lebanon is in dire need of an administration that can set about long-stalled reforms to put public debt on a sustainable footing.

Hariri said everyone was committed to reforms and said the government would try to bring down the subsidy it pays on energy by about $600 million in 2019.

Lebanon has the third largest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world.

Hariri also said a second round of bidding for Lebanese off-shore energy exploration should be open in February or March, adding that BP “is interested and the Americans are interested”.

Lebanon’s first round of exploration began in May after authorities approved an exploration plan submitted by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Roche

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