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Lebanon's Khatib says Sunnis want Hariri to be PM again

Key parties previously rejected Hariri's demand to lead a technocratic government [AFP]

Date of publication: 8 December, 2019

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Government consultations are set to begin on Monday, but front-runner Samir Khatib and consensus candidate Saad al-Hariri have both rejected the top job.
Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community wants veteran Saad al-Hariri to be prime minister again, businessman Samir Khatib claimed on Sunday after meeting with the country's top Sunni cleric, putting an end to his own candidacy for the position.

Hariri resigned in late October after mass protests erupted across Lebanon calling for an end to the country's corrupt and sectarian ruling class.

The protests have continued since then as Lebanon dives further into a spiralling economic crisis. Consultations to appoint a new prime minister led by President Michel Aoun, also maligned by demonstrators, are yet to yield any results.

In Lebanon's sectarian political system, the prime minister post is reserved for a Sunni Muslim. 

Samir Khatib, a businessman with no experience in politics, emerged as a front-runner for the position last week after early talks ruled out former finance minister Mohammed Safadi.

Hariri gave Khatib his backing, with formal consultations with Aoun on Monday set to confirm his appointment.

 
But the businessman, speaking after a meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian on Sunday said the top Sunni cleric backed Hariri.

"I learnt ... that as a result of meetings and consultations and contacts with the sons of the [Sunni] Islamic sect, agreement was reached on nominating Saad al-Hariri to form the coming government," Khatib said, according to Reuters.

He added that he would travel to Hariri's home to inform him "because he is the one who nominated me to form the new government".

Hariri said late last month that he would not return to the top job.

"I am committed to the rule 'not myself, but someone else' to form a new government that speaks to the aspirations of the Lebanese people," the consensus candidate said.

Hariri, who served as prime minister between 2009 and 2011 and between 2016 and 2019, had said he would only return to the post if he could lead a government of expert ministers.

A government led by technocrats is a key demand for protesters who believe specialists will be best placed to deal with the country's economic and political crises. 

Hariri's demand was rejected by key groups including powerful Shia party Hezbollah and its ally Aoun, who say any future government must include politicians. 

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