Lebanon's Hariri says he will not run for prime minister

He insists formal consultations to designate new premier take place on Thursday as scheduled

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Lebanon's Saad Hariri said on Wednesday that he was not a candidate for prime minister, ahead of delayed consultations to give the protest-racked country a new government.

The decision leaves Lebanon's political elite the search for an alternative to lead a Cabinet that must tackle the country's worst economic crisis since the end of its civil war in 1990.

The two sources on Wednesday said Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are likely to name Hassan Diab, a university professor who was education minister from 2011 to 2014, as their preferred choice for next prime minister.

Mr Diab could be the next leader if he gained the backing of other Hezbollah political allies, including the Christian FPM party, with Parliament tilted in their favour.

"I announce that I will not be a candidate to form the coming government," said Mr Hariri, the prime minister in the departing government.

He urged that formal consultations to designate a new premier take place on Thursday as scheduled.

"I am heading tomorrow to take part in the consultations on this basis, insisting that they not be delayed for any reason," Mr Hariri said.

Fifty days after nationwide demonstrations against Lebanon's political elite forced him to step down, the caretaker leader had looked like he might try to keep his seat.

But Mr Hariri said his name was drawing too much opposition for him to be a candidate.

"I have strived to meet their demand for a government of experts, which I saw as the only option to address the serious social and economic crisis our country faces," he said.

Since Mr Hariri quit as prime minister in late October, the main parties have feuded over forming a new government.

Lebanon's economy has been sliding towards default in recent weeks.

But the main political parties have so far failed to meet calls from protesters and international partners to form a credible Cabinet capable of introducing key reforms.

Several names were floated since Mr Hariri resigned on October 29 but his own eventually came back to the fore.

His withdrawal leaves a major question mark hanging over consultations that have already been delayed twice.