Lebanon protestors shun PM-designate's call for talks



Lebanese protestors shout slogans outside the parliament to denounce the nomination of Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab in Beirut on December 19th. [Patrick Baz/AFP]

Prominent street leaders on Sunday (December 22nd) shunned an invitation by Lebanon's prime minister-designate to sit for talks over the formation of a new government, saying they are not ready to extend support.

Their refusal followed Friday protests in which roads were blocked across the country to condemn the designation of Hizbullah-backed Hassan Diab in a divisive vote that sparked uproar among members of the Sunni community.

Diab, a little-known 60-year-old engineering professor at the American University of Beirut, was designated Thursday with the endorsement of Hizbullah and its allies but without the backing of Lebanon's main Sunni bloc.

Debt-burdened Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since former prime minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on October 29th in the face of nationwide protests.


Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab delivers a speech after his nomination at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on December 19th. [STRINGER/AFP]

Demonstrators are demanding an overhaul of the political establishment, insisting on a government of independents and experts with no ties to the country's sectarian parties.

Diab, tasked with forming a desperately-needed government, had asked protestors to give him a "chance" to form a cabinet of independent experts within four to six weeks.

But the self-styled technocrat's call for consultations with representatives of the popular movement on Sunday failed to draw prominent street leaders or groups.

A small crowd of protestors rallied outside Diab's house and slammed visitors who claimed to represent the country's leaderless movement.

"You do not represent us," the protestors chanted.

The few who heeded Diab's calls for talks included largely unknown individuals not recognised as representatives of the protest movement.

'Not convinced' Diab can form government

"Not a single group actually active on the ground met today with the prime minister-designate because they are not convinced" he can form a government of technocrats, said Wassef Harakeh, a prominent activist.

"They want us to get mired in this game of consultations," he said.

In the protest camp in central Beirut, crowds began gathering in the afternoon.

"The people that visited the prime minister-designate today do not represent the [protests]," said Ali Haidar, a resident of Beirut's southern suburbs.

"These talks were a failure," he said from the protest camp.

Diab held talks Saturday with parliamentary blocs on the formation of a government but met several challenges as key groups insisted that the cabinet must include established parties not just independent experts.

The complicated process of forming a government comes as Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The Lebanese pound, officially pegged to the US dollar, has lost around 30% of its value on the black market, while companies have been paying half-salaries for the past two months and laying off staff.

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