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Lebanese Christian party offers idea to resolve dispute over new cabinet

Edmund Blair
·2 mins read

* France raising pressure on Lebanon to pick cabinet

* Prime minister-designate seeks to shake up ministries

* Who will run finance ministry is at centre of dispute

* Lebanon's politics is based on sectarian system

By Edmund Blair

BEIRUT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A party founded by Lebanon's Christian president made a proposal to end a dispute that has blocked the formation of a new cabinet and threatened a French drive to lift the country out of its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The proposal, put forward on Saturday, involved handing major ministries to smaller sectarian groups in a country where power is shared between Muslims and Christians. There was no immediate comment from officials in Shi'ite Muslim groups, who have insisted they choose who fills several posts.

Lebanon's efforts to swiftly form a new government have run into the sand over how to pick ministers in a country where political loyalties mostly follow sectarian religious lines.

A Sept. 15 deadline agreed with France to name a cabinet has passed. Paris, which is leading an international push to haul Lebanon back from economic collapse, has voiced exasperation and told Beirut to act "without delay".

The leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the party founded by President Michel Aoun and allied to Hezbollah, proposed "undertaking an experiment to distribute the so-called sovereign ministries to smaller sects, specifically to the Druze, Alawites, Armenians and Christian minorities".

The statement was issued after Gebran Bassil, the party leader and son-in-law of the president, chaired a meeting of the party's political leadership. Bassil is a Maronite, Lebanon's largest Christian community.

Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon's sectarian system, wants to shake up the leadership of ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same factions for years.

A group of former Sunni prime ministers backing Adib urged the prime minister-designate to press on with forming a government "as soon as possible."

But the two main Shi'ite groups - the Amal Movement and the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah - want to select the figures to fill a number of positions, including the finance minister, a top position often called a "sovereign" ministry.

With the nation buried under a mountain of debt and with its banks paralysed, the finance minister will play a crucial role as Lebanon seeks to restart stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund, one of the first steps on France's roadmap.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Pravin Char)