Cabinet talks in Lebanon break down, heralding more collapse

BEIRUT (AP) — Protesters blocked some roads in the Lebanese capital with burning tyres on Monday after talks on the formation of a new Cabinet broke down, heralding more economic and financial collapse for the small Arab country.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri made the announcement following a short meeting with President Michel Aoun — a last-ditch effort at repairing a rift that has impeded formation of a government tasked with halting the country’s rapid economic collapse. Hariri placed the blame squarely on Aoun for the months-long delay, accusing him of insisting on acquiring veto power for his allies in the new government.

Hariri, who was tasked by Aoun to form a Cabinet five months ago after he was named by a majority of lawmakers, is seeking to form a Cabinet of technocrats, or non-partisan specialists, while Aoun has asked for an expanded Cabinet of at least 20 ministers. Meanwhile, the country has been adrift with only a caretaker government in charge as it slides further into an economic abyss.

Speaking with reporters at the presidential palace, Hariri said Aoun had sent him a proposed list of Cabinet ministers, with veto power given to his alliance, asking him to simply sign off on the names. He said he rejected that request as unconstitutional and returned the list.

“The prime minister-designate’s job is not to fill in lists from anyone, and it is not the job of the president to form a government,” Hariri said.

Aoun’s office strongly denied the claim that the president sent Hariri a list with names, suggesting that it was clear Hariri did not wish to form a government for reasons that have nothing to do with its make-up. According to the constitution, the president can suggest names to the prime minister-designate, who is ultimately responsible for forming a Cabinet.

Aoun was elected to a six-year term by Parliament in 2016 after Lebanon had been nearly two years without a president. He is an ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Hariri, who has worked closely with Hezbollah before, is locked in a power struggle with Aoun’s political party and is under pressure to exclude Hezbollah from a future Cabinet.

A man rides his bicycle past garbage containers set on fire by protesters blocking a main road in front the Lebanese Central Bank building in Beirut. PHOTO: AP