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Lebanon: Safadi Emerges as PM Choice, Angering Protesters

Lebanon: Safadi Emerges as PM Choice, Angering Protesters

Friday, 15 November, 2019 - 10:45
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's then-Minister of Economy and Trade, Mohammad Safadi, speaks during the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Beirut, October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam

Lebanese anti-government protesters who have been demanding radical reform reacted with anger Friday to the alleged designation of Mohammed Safadi as a new prime minister whom they regard as emblematic of a failed political system.

"I confirm that we have been in contact with (ex-finance) minister Safadi and he has agreed to take on the position of prime minister if his name gets agreement with the main political forces in government," said caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, who is the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.

"If matters move normally, the consultations should begin on Monday with Safadi named at the end of them, otherwise we will continue to go in circles waiting to agree on a name."

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29, nearly two weeks into the unprecedented nationwide protests against ruling politicians who are blamed for rampant corruption and steering Lebanon into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

Aoun has said he will support the formation of a cabinet including technocrats but he has not yet announced binding consultations with parliamentary blocs over a new line-up.

Demonstrators in his hometown of Tripoli in northern Lebanon wasted no time in rejecting Safadi. They gathered near one of his properties to protest against a reported nomination they regard as a provocation.

"Choosing Mohammed Safadi for prime minister proves that the politicians who rule us are in a deep coma, as if they were on another planet," said Jamal Badawi, 60.

Another protester said that as a business tycoon and former minister, Safadi was an embodiment of the kind of political class the protest movement wants to remove.

"He's an integral part of this leadership's fabric," said Samer Anous, a university professor. "Safadi does not meet the aspirations of the popular uprising in Lebanon."

Second city Tripoli has been one of the main hubs of the month-old protest movement, with nightly rallies in its main squares.

A protest was planned in the afternoon at Zaytunay Bay, a luxury marina in central Beirut which is run by a company Safadi chairs.

The consensus on Safadi emerged in a meeting late on Thursday between Hariri and representatives of Hezbollah and its ally Amal movement.

A source familiar with the meeting said Hariri had expressed no objections to Safadi's nomination.

The source said that MPs from Hariri's al-Mustaqbal movement would nominate Safadi in a formal process.

The next government will face huge challenges. It must win international financial support seen as critical to alleviating the economic crisis, while addressing the challenge posed by a nationwide protest movement that wants to see the old elite gone from power.

Lebanon's long-brewing economic crisis, rooted in years of state waste, corruption and mismanagement, has deepened since the protests began. Banks have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals.

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