Lebanon PM-designate Mustapha Adib bids to form crisis cabinet within two weeks

The traumatic explosion at Beirut port last month has created intense pressure for swift reforms

BEIRUT, LEBANON - SEPTEMBER 01: An anti government protester holds a Lebanese flag which has had the usual red stripes replaced with black as a sign of mourning, during a demonstration on September 1, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. This week, the country's political parties agreed in principle to form a new government under Mustapha Adib, Lebanon's former ambassador to Germany. The previous government resigned last month in the wake of the explosion in Beirut's port that killed more than 200 people and damaged large swaths of the city. (Photo by Sam Tarling/Getty Images)
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Lebanon's prime minister-designate was to begin talks on Wednesday on forming a crisis government within two weeks to start enacting desperately needed reforms in the disaster-hit country.

Government formation is usually a drawn-out process in multi-confessional Lebanon where a complex political system seeks to share power between different religious groups.

But a traumatic explosion at Beirut port last month has created intense pressure for swift reforms to lift the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.

Lebanon warned over malpractice

Lebanon warned over malpractice

The last government, only in power since the start of the year, resigned in the wake of the August 4 explosion that killed at least 190, wounded thousands and laid waste to entire districts of the capital.

With the clock ticking, prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib was to meet the parliament speaker, former prime ministers and parliamentary bloc representatives.

Lebanese MPs rushed to approve the nomination of the little-known 48-year-old diplomat on Monday on the eve of a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Visiting Lebanon to mark the centenary of the former French protectorate, Mr Macron on Tuesday said all sides had pledged to help Mr Adib form a cabinet within two weeks.

He promised to host two conferences in Paris in the second half of October – one to help drum up aid and the other to discuss political reform.

He said he would be back in Lebanon in December for a progress report.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker, was due in Lebanon Wednesday to "urge Lebanese leaders to implement reforms that respond to the Lebanese people's desire for transparency, accountability, and a government free of corruption", the embassy said.

The Beirut explosion compounded Lebanon's worst economic crisis since the war, which has reached the point where the UN has warned that more than half of the population risk food shortages by the end of the year.

On August 9, international donors pledged more than 250 million euros ($300 million) in emergency aid, during a video conference jointly organised by France and the United Nations.

Mr Macron said he was ready to host a second Lebanon aid conference in the second half of October.

He said he had also invited the president, the prime minister and parliament speaker to a second political conference at the same time.

Mr Macron had begun his trip not by visiting political leaders, but by spending more than an hour on Monday with veteran singer Fayrouz, who at 85 is a rare unifying figure in Lebanon.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron attended a series of events to mark 100 years since French mandate authorities proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon.

In the Jaj forest north-east of Beirut, he planted a cedar tree – Lebanon's national symbol – to express "confidence in the future of the country", his office said.

Mr Macron also returned for a second visit to Beirut port, ground zero of the colossal blast.

French air force jets flew overhead, leaving trails of red, white and green smoke, the colours of the Lebanese flag.

Some on social media criticised the aerial manoeuvre, saying it could trigger traumatic memories among people who experienced the port blast and the 1975-1990 civil war.