Lebanon's Hariri talks reform Cabinet with Macron in Paris

Meeting with French leader comes amid frosty relationship between Mr Hariri and President Aoun over Cabinet appointments

French President Emmanuel Macron and Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon's prime minister while on a visit to Saudi Arabia, react on the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, November 18, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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French President Emanuel Macron and prime minister-designate Saad Hariri late on Wednesday discussed efforts to pave the way for a new Lebanese government committed to implementing reforms in exchange for international financial support.

The two-hour meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris touched on France's efforts to rally international support for Lebanon "once a government capable of undertaking the necessary reforms is formed", Mr Hariri said.

Lebanon has been without a full Cabinet since August when the now caretaker government stepped down after the huge explosion at Beirut port.

The blast, which killed more than 200 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage across the capital, forced the resignation of Hassan Diab's government and paved the way for Mr Hariri's return a year after nationwide protests prompted him to step down.

Since his return to the post, Mr Hariri has clashed with President Michel Aoun and his political allies over the Cabinet make-up and the allocation of key ministerial portfolios

"In this context, prime minister Hariri and President Macron discussed Lebanese domestic challenges that are hindering the formation of a government and possible ways to overcome these difficulties," the prime minister-designate's office said.

The Paris meeting followed recent visits by Mr Hariri to the UAE, Egypt and Turkey in an attempt to break the political deadlock.

Mr Hariri began his diplomatic tour days before the New Year holidays and almost two weeks after putting forward a Cabinet line-up of 18 "non-partisan" experts that failed to win the approval of the president.

Since then, the gap between Mr Hariri and Mr Aoun, a staunch ally of Iran-backed Hezbollah, has widened.

The last meeting between the two leaders was in in late January.

A source close to the president told The National there had been no contact between Mr Hariri and Mr Aoun on setting a date for further meetings on Cabinet formation.

Negotiations over the government formation stalled despite the need for urgent reforms to tackle an economic and financial crisis that has plunged more than half the country's population into poverty.

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