Lebanon forms government with backing of Hezbollah and allies

Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday (Jan 21) led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab after the powerful Shi'ite group Hezbollah and its allies clinched an agreement over a Cabinet that must address a destabilising economic crisis.

The heavily indebted country has been without effective government since Saad al-Hariri resigned as premier in October, prompted by protests against a political elite seen as having caused the crisis through state corruption.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah and allies including President Michel Aoun nominated Diab as premier last month after efforts failed to strike a deal with Hariri, Lebanon's main Sunni leader and an ally of the West and Gulf Arab states.

Weeks of wrangling over portfolios among Hezbollah's allies held up an agreement until Tuesday when the heavily armed group delivered an ultimatum to its allies to make a deal or suffer the consequences, sources familiar with the talks said.

The Cabinet is made up of 20 specialist ministers backed by parties.

Economist Ghazi Wazni was nominated finance minister with the backing of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Nassif Hitti, a former ambassador to the Arab League, was named foreign minister with the backing of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement.

Diab described his government as a technocratic "rescue team" that would work to achieve the goals of protesters who first took to the streets on Oct 17. His first trip abroad will be to the Arab region, particularly the Gulf, he said.

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