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Lebanon at crossroads again ... New gov't or chaos

Report by Ayoub Khaddaj

BEIRUT, Aug 5 (KUNA) -- Lebanon is at a key crossroad again amid a new bid by leaders to form a government to pave way for international bailout of the country, economy of which is in tatters.
Failure of forming a new government means Lebanon, suffering from a host of issues namely inflation due to drastic fall of Lebanese pound that sent commodities' prices soaring, will be deprived of some USD 11 billion worth of aid pledged by the international community to remedy the ailing economy.
The political arena is currently witnessing efforts by Najib Mikati, a billionaire from the northern city of Tripoli, to form the much aspired government; in coordination with President Michel Aoun. The attempt is the third of its kind since a year ago after the diplomat Mustafa Adib and former premier Saad Al-Hariri failed to agree with the president on a new line-up of the council of ministers.
Salah Salam, chief editor of the daily newspaper, "Al-Liwaa," believes that a new government will be proclaimed soon due to insistence on part of the international community in general and the Americans in particular for fears that the country "will crumble" if the political situation has not be restored to regular.
Western powers have linked the badly needed financial bailout to forming a government capable of conducting reforms and combating corruption; existence of which was behind wasting or misspending billions of US dollars before value of the pound tumbled, now trading at some 20,000 vis-a-vis a single USD, compared to 1,500 before the crisis deepened more than a year ago.
Salam bases his cautious optimism on Mikati's diplomatic prudence and shrewdness, although he emerged from his last encounter with Aoun looking uncomfortable and hinting he would not follow steps of his predecessor, Al-Hariri, who held a chain of fruitless meetings with the president that lasts for nine months.
"Those who may hamper formation of this government will pay a heavy price because in such an event Lebanon will witness total collapse and we will get embroiled in chaos," Salam told the Kuwaiti news agency.
George Shahin, a locally known journalist, shares Salam the guarded optimism saying, "the margins of maneuvering have become tight and they (the politicians) cannot cope with the extreme external pressure and the popular pressure amid the deteriorating living conditions." Shahin indicated that the recent consultations the president held with MPs and parliamentary blocs that ended with a majority naming Mikati for the task transpired that there was significant support from heavyweight external powers for Mikati.
The designated premier has explicitly declared that he enjoys "external guarantees," affirming his keenness on coordinating with the president on nominees for the cabinet membership.
One of the terms put forward by France, one of the key players following up on the Lebanese crisis, is forming a cabinet of "specialists" with no political affiliations. Many observers believe the condition is too hard to be met on part of the traditional Lebanese politicians.
Another Lebanese journalist, Radhwan Akeel, believes that forming a new cabinet "is possible because the country has entered a dark tunnel and its formation is the key to get out of it.
"Moreover, there is the international community insistence on setting up a new government to preserve what's left of the institutions and financial capacities after the country has become paralyzed." (end) ayb.rk