October 3, 2018 / 3:07 PM / a month ago

Lebanon's Hariri - 'very optimistic' about government formation

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday he was “very optimistic” about the formation of a new government five months after national elections.

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks to the media in front of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon ahead of the closings arguments in the trial of Lebanon's Rafik al-Hariri alleged killers in the Hague, the Netherlands September 11, 2018. Bas Czerwinski/Pool via REUTERS

Political stalemate is preventing Lebanon from forming a national unity government, raising concerns for the heavily-indebted economy.

“We agreed on the need to speed up the government formation because of the economic situation,” Hariri said in televised comments after meeting President Michel Aoun. “The atmosphere is positive. There will be another meeting with President Aoun soon.”

In response to reporters questions after the meeting, Hariri said simply he was “very optimistic” about government formation.

Lebanon Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday said there was “a glimmer of hope” surrounding the government formation, according to a lawmaker from Berri’s party who speaks on his behalf after meetings.

Berri sees a sort of “balance in concessions” needed to form a government, al-Jadeed news reported MP Ali Bazzi as having said.

In the five months since the May election, which produced a parliament tilted in favour of the Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, Hariri has said a number of times that he was optimistic there would soon be a breakthrough.

The main sticking point in negotiations has been seen as how to satisfy the competing demands of Maronite Christian Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on the one hand, and their Maronite rival Samir Geagea and his Lebanese Forces party on the other.

Lebanon’s last government has continued as a caretaker administration since the May election, but the country needs a proper government to undertake reforms needed to improve the sustainability of the country’s debt.

Hariri is scheduled to give a television interview on Thursday evening.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Ellen Francis; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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