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Hezbollah-Backed Professor To Form New Lebanese Government

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab delivers a speech after his nomination at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on December 19, 2019.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab delivers a speech after his nomination at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on December 19, 2019.

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's president Thursday asked a university professor and former education minister supported by the Hezbollah group to form a new government, breaking a weeks-long impasse amid nationwide mass protests against the country's political elite.

But prime minister-designate Hassan Diab's efforts to form a government will almost certainly hit snags in a deeply divided country facing the worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

Michel Aoun named Diab as prime minister after a day of consultations with lawmakers in which he gained a simple majority of the 128-member parliament. Sixty-nine lawmakers, including the parliamentary bloc of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements as well as lawmakers affiliated with President Michel Aoun gave him their votes.

In his first public address, Diab said he would work quickly to form a government that represents a wide array of people following consultations with political parties as well as representatives of the protest movement. He said he is committed to a reform plan and described the current situation as “critical and sensitive” and requiring exceptional efforts and collaboration.

Diab, 60, faces the daunting task of forming a government to tackle the crippling financial crisis in one of the most indebted countries of the world. While gaining the majority of the votes, he failed to get the support of the country's major Sunni leaders, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which will make it difficult for him to form a new government.

Support from the Iran-backed group guarantees a thorny path for any candidate, potentially inviting push back from Western and Gulf nations that had supported the outgoing Hariri.

It was not immediately clear whether the appointment would satisfy people in the streets who have been protesting for over two months, calling for a government made up of specialists. The leaderless protest movement has differing views on the criteria for the next prime minister. The protests have recently taken a violent turn, with frequent clashes between security forces and protesters.

Supporters of Hezbollah and Amal have also attacked the protest camp site in Beirut on several occasions.

Since then, efforts to agree on a new prime minister and the shape of government have kept hitting a dead end. Hariri, who is aligned with the West and Gulf countries, has insisted he would head a Cabinet made up of specialists to deal with the economic and financial crisis — a key demand of the protest movement — while the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which initially backed him, has demanded a government that includes all major political factions.

Binding consultations between President Michel Aoun and representatives of the 128-member parliament were delayed twice as Lebanon saw some of the worst violence since protests erupted in mid-October. The clashes have involved security forces and anti-government protesters, as well as supporters of Lebanon's two main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal.

In Lebanon's sectarian-based political system, the prime minister has to be from the Sunni Muslim community.