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Fresh clashes hit Lebanon as politicians voice optimism about govt. formation

Riot police clash with protesters as they try to remove the crowd and open a road during an anti-government demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon, December 4, 2019. (Photo by AP)

Fresh clashes have erupted between police and anti-government protesters in the Lebanese capital city of Beirut as officials suggest progress in talks on forming a new cabinet.

Chanting slogans and holding Lebanese national flags, dozens of demonstrators blocked a main road in central Beirut, known as the Ring Bridge, on Tuesday.

Lebanese security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Al Arabiya TV channel reported that the police finally forced protesters to relocate from the road and opened it to traffic.

The protests broke out in Lebanon on October 17, when the government introduced a set of economic austerity measures.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on October 29 under pressure from protesters, who accuse the ruling elite of pushing Lebanon towards political turmoil at a time of acute economic crisis.

Hariri said at the time that he had reached a “dead end” in trying to resolve the economic crisis, which has been further complicated by violence on the streets.

Currently, Lebanese political parties are engaged in negotiations to resolve the cabinet crisis.

Hariri, who is still serving in a caretaker capacity, told reporters on Tuesday that he backed Lebanese businessman Samir al-Khatib to head the next cabinet, adding, however, that “some details” still had to be hashed out.

The photo taken from The Daily Star shows Lebanon's former prime minister Saad al-Hariri (L) and businessman Samir al-Khatib. 

Hariri also said that he would not take part in the new Lebanese government, noting that everyone was seeking to overcome “this difficult stage.”

Khatib is an executive vice president of Khatib & Alami engineering company.

He reportedly met Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, at the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday after holding talks with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace to gain their support for the premiership.

A source familiar with the cabinet formation process said Khatib was seeking to promote a 24-member techno-political administration, which would also include representatives of Lebanese protesters, The Daily Star reported.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Bassil signaled that progress had been made in talks on forming a new government.

Now, he said, there was agreement on an administration headed by “a trusted figure Hariri fully backs” and with a majority of “competent, specialized” people.

“The government must be open to everyone,” he pointed out. “We hope that matters have reached close to a happy ending.”

Separately, Aoun said, “The upcoming days will bring positive developments.”

An unnamed political source told the Daily Star that Aoun might set a date for parliamentary consultations later this week if the main political parties reached a deal on supporting Khatib.

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