Hariri backs foe Aoun for Lebanese presidency

Move by former prime minister aims two end two-year deadlock that has left president's chair vacant.

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Al Hariri, left, and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gen Michel Aoun, in Beirut on October 20, 2016. Dalati Nohra / EPA
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BEIRUT // Lebanon’s former prime minister Saad Al Hariri announced his support on Thursday for his political foe Michel Aoun – a step that may help resolve the country’s political deadlock.

“This decision comes from the need to protect Lebanon and the state and the people ... but it is a decision that depends on agreement,” he said, describing Hizbollah ally Mr Aoun as “the only option left”.

Lebanon has been without a president for nearly two-and-a-half years. The power vacuum has paralysed government, causing a breakdown in many basic services and reviving fears of a slide back towards civil war.

The endorsement by Mr Al Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician who has long opposed Hizbollah, could break the prolonged standoff between Lebanon’s political leaders.

But Mr Aoun still faces looming obstacles towards his election as president by the country’s parliament, including opposition from parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Amal movement which is also an ally of Hizbollah.

Also on Thursday, Lebanon’s intelligence agency said it had detained eight Syrians accused of plotting suicide bomb attacks at popular tourist spots and on Unifil, the UN peacekeeping force that patrols the southern Lebanese border with Israel.

A series of bomb attacks have struck Lebanon since the beginning of the war in neighbouring Syria in 2011, some of them linked by Lebanese security forces to militant groups based in Syria.

* Reuters