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Lebanon leaders name favourite for prime minister ahead of visit from France’s Macron

WATCH: France's President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut hours after Lebanese leaders named diplomat Mustapha Adib as the new prime minister on Monday under French pressure.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany appeared slated to become the crisis-stricken country’s next prime minister after getting the support of senior Sunni politicians on Sunday.

Mustapha Adib was named by four former prime ministers on the eve of binding consultations between the president and parliamentary blocs on their choice for the post.

The announcement came a day before French President Emmanuel Macron was due to arrive for a two day-visit, during which he was expected to press Lebanese officials to formulate a new political pact to lift the country out of its multiple crises, political stalemates, and entrenched corruption and of mismanagement.

Read more: Lebanon’s Hezbollah hit with backlash after explosion in Beirut

It’s Macron’s second visit to the former French protectorate in less than a month. He came days after the devastating Aug. 4 blast in the port of Beirut that killed 190 people, wounded 6,000 and pulverized parts of the capital.

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The government resigned less than a week after the blast.

Earlier Sunday, the head of the powerful Hezbollah group Hassan Nasrallah said his Shiite organization will co-operate and facilitate the formation of a government that would be able to improve economic conditions and undertake major reforms. Hezbollah and its allies backed the outgoing government.

Adib is the only name to emerge so far as a favourite for the post of prime minister, who according to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power sharing system has to be a Sunni Muslim. The candidate who gets the most support is asked to form the new Cabinet but Lebanon’s divided political class has often been bogged down over who holds senior political posts.

“The target of political and national action at this stage must be to save Lebanon from what is suffering from,” said Fouad Siniora, a former prime minister, reading a joint statement.

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Canadian initiatives to support relief efforts in Lebanon – Aug 18, 2020

The Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, which has a dominant role in Lebanon’s politics, has come under intense criticism and public scrutiny as the country faces multiple devastating crises.

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An unprecedented economic crisis had already cost the Lebanese currency more than 80% of its value, driving unemployment, poverty and inflation through the roof.

Coronavirus infections and deaths have also spiked, causing concerns and pushing authorities to reintroduce some restrictions on economic and social activities that have largely been ignored amid the slump. And the recent explosion badly damaged the port of Beirut, a main trade channel for the small country dependent on imports.

Feeling the pressure, Nasrallah promised Hezbollah will co-operate to avoid a political vacuum.

“Whether in naming a prime minister or forming a government, we will be co-operative and facilitate getting the country out of a vacuum,” he said in a speech Sunday.

Nasrallah said his group is also open to calls from France for a new political contract in Lebanon, on condition that all Lebanese factions are on board.

On Sunday, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia said more than half of Lebanon’s population is at risk of failing to access basic food needs by the end of 2020, amid an average annual inflation rate expected to reach 50 per cent compared to 2.9 per cent in 2019.

Read more: Foreign affairs minister heading to Lebanon for 1st overseas trip since start of pandemic

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ESCWA said the average price of food products has increased by 141 per cent between July 2019 and 2020, and that it expects the Beirut explosion to further drive up basic food prices.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, backed by Hezbollah and its allies, resigned on Aug. 10, six days after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut’s port,A where they had been stored for six years.

Adib, who has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013, served as an advisor to one of Lebanon’s former Prime Ministers, Najib Mikati. He took part in the committee in charge of writing Lebanon’s new electoral law in 2005 and 2006, and acted as his chief of Cabinet in 2011.

Mikati resigned in 2013 at the height of the Syrian war after a two-year stint as prime minister in a government dominated by Hezbollah group and its allies. The war next door had increased sectarian tension between Lebanon’s political rivals who supported opposite sides of the Syrian conflict.

Adib, 48 and a native of the northern city of Tripoli, holds a PhD in law and political sciences and had taught in universities in Lebanon and France.