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Lebanon Government Formation Appears on Hold, Despite Earlier Optimism

People push their cars due to a lack of fuel, near a gas station in Dora, Lebanon, Aug. 17, 2021.

Lebanese citizens are feeling embittered by the rising death toll of those burned in Sunday’s fuel tanker explosion in the northern region of Akkar. People were reportedly desperate to fill plastic containers there with scarce fuel when the blast occurred.

The general public has been plunged into darkness and chaos as shortages of electricity, food, and transportation services engulf the country.

The tragic incident follows the anniversary of the deadly port blast last August that claimed more than 200 lives and destroyed large parts of the capital, Beirut.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Aug. 16, 2021.
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Aug. 16, 2021.

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati on Monday. Shea warned that without an “empowered government committed to and able to implement urgently needed reforms” the Lebanese would slide further into a humanitarian catastrophe. She urged parties “who continue to block government formation and reform to put aside partisan interests.”

However, after his talks with Aoun on the naming of potential ministers for a new government, billionaire businessman Mikati refused a time limit for the formation, despite earlier expressing optimism that it could happen in days.

Joseph Bahout, who directs the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, told VOA that time has run out for political bickering over portfolios.

“What is to be done is very well known, but no one is able to do it," Bahout said. "It means to stop this race towards the abyss: stopping stupid economic, financial policies, form a minimally accepted government, undertake the minimally required to reforms about the electricity, bank restructuring and the start of the negotiations with the IMF and start putting the country on the right track socially.

"If this happens, it will be accompanied by the international community under the form of an aid social net safety issues to put the country on the track onto recovery over a period of three to four years.”

The influential Lebanese Maronite Catholic patriarch, Bechara Boutros al-Rai, denounced "the state of destructive chaos that is destroying Lebanon,” which he said was one of the causes of the Akkar explosion. He warned parties against exploiting the situation “to bring about more painful events that Lebanon and its people are no longer able to bear or even absorb."

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s state-owned power company says it can provide only one hour of electricity a day. Lack of fuel is one problem; another is that in some areas, people have seized control of power stations and diverted electricity to serve their own towns and villages.