November 6, 2019 / 5:50 PM / 7 days ago

Lebanon's Hariri meets Bassil, all ideas on table - source close to Hariri

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last week, had a positive meeting with leading politician Gebran Bassil on Wednesday and all ideas were discussed for getting the country out of economic crisis, a source close to Hariri said.

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri meets with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Hariri’s resignation was prompted by an unprecedented wave of protests against the ruling elite that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17, tipping it into political turmoil at a time of acute economic crisis.

Bassil, a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, was foreign minister in the outgoing Hariri cabinet and is a political ally of the powerful and heavily armed Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

“All ideas were put on the table for what would be best for Lebanon to come out of the economic crisis and what would best heed the calls made by protesters in the past three weeks,” the source said of the meeting at Hariri’s Beirut residence.

It was his second meeting there with Bassil in three days.

Communication would remain open with Bassil and all other political groups “over the next hours and days, round the clock, to come up with the best possible solution for the economic and financial difficulties”, the source added.

Aoun has yet to begin the formal consultation process with lawmakers towards nominating a new prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian system. Aoun must designate the candidate with the greatest support among parliamentarians.

The protesters, who have no clear leadership, have made an array of demands from replacing the government with a cabinet of technocrats to an early parliamentary election and steps to fight deeply rooted state corruption.

Other political sources have said Hariri favours a government blending technocrats with political figures but devoid of prominent politicians targeted by protesters, including Bassil.

Bassil has in turn proposed the entire government, including the prime minister, be made up entirely of technocrats agreed to by politicians.

A degree of normalcy has returned to Lebanon in recent days as the protests that paralysed much of the country have ebbed and roads that were blockaded by protesters were reopened.

On Wednesday, protesters gathered outside government offices and state-run bodies in Beirut and other cities.

As night fell, hundreds of protesters, some of them holding candles and banging pans gathered in the central Beirut.

Lebanon’s economy has suffered years of low growth for reasons including turmoil in the Middle East.

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Capital inflows critical to meeting the financing needs of the heavily indebted state have also slowed down, leading recently to a scarcity of hard currency and pressure on the pegged Lebanese pound.

The World Bank said on Wednesday it stood ready to back a new government, warning the country had no time to waste to tackle an emerging economic crisis worsening by the day.

Aoun told the delegation from the World Bank the next government would have competent ministers “of good reputation and far from suspicions of corruption”, his office said.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Editing by Alison Williams

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