Lebanon’s Designated Prime Minister Quits Amid Swirling Crises

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon said on Thursday that he had given up on trying to form a new government, opening a new political void as the country sinks further into an acute political and economic crisis.

Mr. Hariri had been tapped to form a new cabinet last October, after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of a huge explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4. But after nine months of political wrangling over who would head which ministries, Mr. Hariri told reporters that he had failed to come to an agreement with President Michel Aoun and was stepping down.

“May God help the country,” Mr. Hariri said.

Lebanon is suffering through a financial contraction that the World Bank has said could be one of the world’s worst since the mid-1800s, and Mr. Hariri’s exit makes it even less likely that the country will receive aid soon. Western powers and the International Monetary Fund have predicated any assistance on the formation of a new government and the enactment of political reforms.

Mr. Hariri had sent a proposed cabinet lineup to the president on Wednesday and met with him on Thursday, only to announce after a 20-minute meeting that they had failed to agree and that he was standing down.

Mr. Aoun’s office did not immediately comment on Mr. Hariri’s decision. It was unclear how long it would take for a new potential prime minister to be designated, and who that might be.

Mr. Diab continues to serve as the caretaker prime minister, limiting the scope of actions he and his ministers can take to try to stop the country’s descent.

Lebanon has been assailed by interconnected crises since the fall of 2019, when mass protests filled the streets as people called for the ouster of the country’s political elite, whom the demonstrators accused of enriching themselves and failing to develop the country.

Since then, the economy has crashed and unemployment has soared. And the situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the Beirut port explosion, which killed about 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damage to residential parts of the city.

Further fueling the collapse is a financial crisis that has left Lebanon’s banks largely insolvent and sent the currency crashing.

After Mr. Hariri’s statement on Thursday, the Lebanese pound reached a new low of 20,000 to the dollar, having lost more than 90 percent of its value since September 2019 and making the salaries of soldiers, police officers and civil servants almost worthless.

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