Lebanon's outgoing prime minister said Tuesday he will not head the next government, in a move intended to speed up the formation of a new cabinet in the protest-swept country.
Street protests demanding an overhaul of Lebanon's entire political system have rocked the small Mediterranean country since mid-October, forcing Saad Hariri to announce his cabinet's resignation on October 29.
Its bitterly divided political leaders have yet to form a new cabinet, with the United Nations on Monday urging the process be accelerated after supporters of Lebanon's two main Shiite parties – Hezbollah and Amal - attacked protesters.
In response to the "irresponsible practices" of the political leadership, Hariri said he felt compelled to make his position known.
"I strongly adhere to the rule of 'not me, but someone else' to form a government to fulfil the ambitions of the youth," the driving force of the protest movement, Hariri said.
He hoped his move would "open doors to a solution" and swiftly lead to a presidential "call for binding parliamentary consultations to appoint a new premier".
Hariri's outgoing cabinet is serving in a caretaker capacity as leaders haggle over the make-up of the next government.
President Michel Aoun, whose powers include initiating parliamentary consultations to appoint a new premier, has yet to schedule such talks, drawing the ire of rivals and the protesters.
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a party founded by Aoun, has accused Hariri of delaying the process by refusing to accept any other candidate for the premiership.
Aoun himself has accused the premier of being "indecisive", a charge which Hariri refuted in his statement on Tuesday.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, a political ally of Hariri, said Hariri had taken the decision after attempts to impose “unacceptable conditions” on him.
“He decided to leave the way for somebody else, which is good,” Jumblatt told Reuters.
“The prime minister did his best to have an acceptable technocratic government, to find a compromise. It was rejected, so he decided to quit. Let’s hope that the new one can succeed and basically concentrate on the economic crisis,” he said.
Forming a government can take months in Lebanon, with sectarian and party leader seeking to protect their own community's interests.
This time, the task is complicated further by protesters' demands for a government of technocrats.
Aoun has said he would support the formation of a government including technocrats and representatives of the popular movement, but also political leaders.
But protesters have demanded a new government be composed entirely of independent experts, which analysts say is a tall order.
"Hezbollah will veto any cabinet that does not include members of the party," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut.
"The next government will have to be a hybrid government that will include mostly technocrats but it will also include a number of politicians," he told AFP.
Supporters of established parties have rallied in recent days to counter the massive anti-government demonstrations which have swept the country.
On Sunday night, Hezbollah and Amal supporters briefly attacked protesters blocking a key Beirut flyover, in the most serious such confrontation since the start of protests.
The following night, dozens of youths again taunted anti-government activists in central Beirut and the southern port city of Tyre.
On Tuesday, FPM supporters confronted dozens of protesters who were calling on the president to schedule parliamentary consultations.
Amnesty International, for its part, urged Lebanese authorities to protect protesters from violent attacks by government supporters.
"The past two days´ seemingly coordinated attacks could well signal a dangerous escalation. The authorities must act immediately to protect protesters and uphold the right to peaceful assembly," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty´s Middle East research head.
In the wake of a twin political and economic crisis, the United States, Britain, France, the United Nations, the World Bank and credit rating agencies have all urged officials to speed up the formation of a new cabinet.
Hariri has decided to stand down because "there is very little he can do at this point to restore public trust and put the economy back on the production cycle", Khashan said.
Debt-saddled Lebanon has since September been hit by a liquidity crisis, with banks rationing the supply of dollars in the market.
As a result, the dollar exchange rate on the parallel market has topped 2,000 Lebanese pounds -- a spike from the pegged rate of 1,507.
Suppliers and importers say they have been forced to buy dollars on the unofficial market because banks are failing to provide the cash needed.
Lebanon's health minister on Tuesday urged the central bank to release dollars for the import of medical equipment.
"The sector is under serious threat," said caretaker minister Jamal Jabak, who is close to the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Importers warned Sunday that the country's stocks would only last weeks, as dialysis filters, heart valves and supplies for respirators had already started to run low.
And the Syndicate of Restaurant Owners in Lebanon said 260 institutions have closed over the past two months due to weakened purchasing power.