BEIRUT/PARIS, Sept 23 (Reuters) – France backed on Wednesday a proposal made by Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician to end a deadlock preventing the formation of a cabinet to lead the nation out of its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Paris has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a government quickly but the process hit a logjam over a demand by Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite parties that they name several ministers, including the finance minister.
Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri proposed in a statement on Tuesday that Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni under Lebanon’s sectarian system of power sharing, name an “independent” Shi’ite candidate to the finance portfolio.
It was not immediately clear whether the two main Shi’ite groups, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement, would back the idea. Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar was critical of the proposal.
A Shi’ite picked by the Amal chief has run the finance ministry for years. Adib aimed to shake up ministerial posts.
The French Foreign Ministry welcomed the “courageous declaration” by Hariri. “This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a government of mission can now be established,” it said.
President Michel Aoun, a Christian allied to Hezbollah, said on Monday Lebanon was going “to hell” if it could not form a government to tackle a crisis that has paralysed the banks, sent Lebanon’s pound into freefall and plunged many into poverty.
Lebanon’s problems were compounded by a devastating explosion on Aug. 4 at Beirut port. Subsequent fires in and around the area and Tuesday’s blast in south Lebanon have further rattled the nation.
Hariri, traditionally aligned to Sunni Persian Gulf Arab states, said his idea was to name “a finance minister from the Shi’ite sect, who would be independent” but said this did not mean he accepted that the post should always be held by a Shi’ite.
France had said on Tuesday Lebanon risked collapse if politicians did not form a cabinet quickly after they missed a mid-September deadline agreed with Paris.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Edmund Blair)