Roadblocks across Lebanon as anger rises over PM pick

Beirut (AFP) –


Protesters blocked roads across crisis-hit Lebanon Friday to condemn the designation of Hezbollah-backed Hassan Diab as prime minister in a divisive vote that sparked uproar among members of the Sunni community.

Diab, a little-known 60-year-old engineering professor at the American University of Beirut, was designated on Thursday with the endorsement of Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies but without backing from Lebanon's main Sunni bloc.

The nomination of the independent former education minister and self-styled 'technocrat' ended nearly two months of political wrangling among lawmakers.

But it fueled anger among members of Lebanon's Sunni community who said the prime-minister-designate did not enjoy the sect's backing for a post reserved for Sunni Muslims by a power-sharing system enshrined after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

In the mainly Sunni city of Tripoli in north Lebanon, which was already rocked by rallies and roadblocks Thursday, schools were closed and opponents of Diab again blockaded roads amid calls for a general strike, said an AFP correspondent there.

Roads were also closed in the neighbouring Akkar district and several other parts of north Lebanon early Friday, said the state-run National News Agency, while burning tyres and garbage bins also stopped traffic on roads in east Lebanon and main arteries connecting the capital to the south.

- 'Fear for the country' -

The mobilisation, including by supporters of former prime minister Saad Hariri, whom Diab is slated to replace, comes ahead a planned meeting between the two political figures later Friday.

Hariri -- who had in recent days been seen as the most likely candidate to head the next government -- did not endorse Diab as his successor, stripping him of critical Sunni political cover.

This raised fears that Diab's nomination as the leading Sunni representative will yield a lopsided government that observers warn could fuel sectarian tensions and complicate efforts to secure international aid needed to pull Lebanon back from the brink of default.

Hariri late Thursday said that the crisis facing Lebanon requires cooperation among members of the political class.

"It's not me who will form the next government, but I am concerned because I fear for the country," he told local television station MTV.

Hariri on Friday was also set to meet with US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who is in Lebanon to meet with top officials including President Michel Aoun.

Lebanon has since October 17 been rocked by unprecedented anti-government protests demanding a complete government overhaul.

Tensions have been heightened by the looming bankruptcy of the debt-burdened Lebanese state.

The Lebanese pound, officially pegged to the US dollar, has lost around 30 percent of its value on the black market, while companies have been paying half-salaries over the past two months and laying off employees.