Lebanon’s Aoun vows to find solution over government impasse

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that a solution would be found to a political row that has blocked the formation of a new national unity government for more than six months since a general election in May.

The country is in dire need of a government able to implement economic reforms that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says are necessary.

The last sticking point surrounds Sunni Muslim representation in the country’s cabinet where the 30 seats must be allocated along sectarian lines.

The powerful Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah says one of its Sunni allies must be represented in the government to reflect the gains they made in the election.

But Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, who is Lebanon’s main Sunni politician and enjoys Western backing, has ruled out allocating any of his cabinet seats to them.

The Hezbollah-allied Sunnis are also known for their close ties to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Aoun said no effort would be spared to resolve the problem.

“The matter requires bravery and patience to reach the end, but we will find the solution because waiting is a waste of time,” a statement from the presidency cited Aoun as saying in a meeting with the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

A statement from Hezbollah on Saturday said the group’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, had met with Aoun’s son-in-law and close advisor Gebran Bassil to discuss the formation of a government and efforts “to resolve the complications”.

Bassil heads the Free Patriotic Movement, the party established by Aoun.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt on Friday voiced fears for Lebanon’s currency if the deadlock continues.

While politicians have often warned of the risk of an economic crisis in Lebanon, public expressions of concern for the currency are rare. Lebanon is experiencing stagnant economic growth and has the world’s third largest public debt to GDP ratio.

Central bank governor Riad Salameh has repeatedly said the Lebanese pound, pegged at 1,507.5 to the dollar for two decades, is stable and not at risk, helped by the central bank’s high foreign currency reserves.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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