Lebanon’s Hariri on track to become PM for third time

Lebanon’s Saad Hariri won the backing of a majority of MPs in official consultations on Thursday to become prime minister for a third time. (AFP)
Updated 25 May 2018
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Lebanon’s Hariri on track to become PM for third time

  • The post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system, and the Western-backed Hariri was the clear frontrunner as the country’s leading Sunni despite losing more than a third of his MPs in a May 6 election.
  • While Hariri won wide backing, Hezbollah MPs named nobody for the post. The group would cooperate “positively” with whoever was designated, Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said after meeting Aoun.

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Saad Hariri is on track to become prime minister for a third time after winning the backing of a majority of MPs in official consultations on Thursday, and is expected to launch negotiations on a coalition government.

The post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system, and the Western-backed Hariri was the clear frontrunner as the country’s leading Sunni despite losing more than a third of his MPs in a May 6 election.

Lebanon's president began consultations on Thursday with lawmakers on naming a new prime minister following this month's parliamentary elections and amid increasing pressures by the US and its Arab allies on the militant Hezbollah group.

President Michel Aoun was holding the official talks with MPs who were holding separate meetings with him on Thursday. The meetings are due to continue into the afternoon. Aoun must designate the candidate with the greatest backing.

By noon, many of the blocs, including the two largest in Parliament, named Hariri as their favorite.

The new coalition government is expected to reflect the enhanced political position of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah and allies that support its possession of arms, which together won at least 70 of Parliament’s 128 seats.

 

Hariri wins backing

While Hariri won wide backing, Hezbollah MPs named nobody for the post. The group would cooperate “positively” with whoever was designated, Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said after meeting Aoun.

Hezbollah, which has 13 seats in the legislature, did not name its own candidate for the premiership as it has done in the past — signaling it will likely go along with Hariri's re-appointment despite tense relations between the Iran-allied Shiite group and the Western-backed Hariri.

All Lebanese leaders have called for the rapid formation of a new government that will aim to revitalize a stagnant economy situation and address unsustainable public debt levels.

But like the outgoing Cabinet, the new government will have to balance out the interests of all the main competing Lebanese parties and may take time.

Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist group by the US, intends to secure three Cabinet seats in the next coalition government, an increase from the two portfolios it held in the outgoing Cabinet of 30 ministers, a senior official familiar with the group’s thinking told Reuters.

A UN-backed tribunal has indicted five Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father and former Premier Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah denies the charges.

Hezbollah, which has to date held only marginal Cabinet posts, is also seeking more significant service-providing ministries in the new Cabinet, sources familiar with its thinking have told Reuters.

Hezbollah also believes a Cabinet post should be allocated to one of its Sunni allies who wrested seats away from Hariri’s Future Movement.

The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party, which almost doubled its number of MPs to 15, is also seeking a bigger slice of Cabinet portfolios.

Parliament re-elected the Hezbollah-allied Shiite politician Nabih Berri as its speaker on Wednesday, extending his tenure in the post he has held since 1992. Another Hezbollah ally, Elie Ferzli, was elected as his deputy. A wave of sanctions by the US and its Arab allies has targeted Hezbollah, which made gains in this month's balloting and which says it wants to play a bigger role in Lebanon's new government. Those demands could complicate Hariri's mission in the coming weeks.

The six GCC countries and the US consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization while the European Union only labels its military wing as a terrorist group.

“This action highlights the duplicity and disgraceful conduct of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin in a statement. "Despite Nasrallah’s claims, Hezbollah uses financiers like Bazzi who are tied to drug dealers, and who launder money to fund terrorism,” 


Children’s author Judith Kerr, who wrote ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’, dies

Updated 10 min 3 sec ago
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Children’s author Judith Kerr, who wrote ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’, dies

LONDON: British writer and illustrator Judith Kerr, whose death at 95 was announced on Thursday, captivated young readers around the world with her tales of a fluffy tiger coming to tea, a trouble-prone cat and her own family's flight from Nazi Germany.
With curly hair and a mischievous smile, the petite Kerr worked well into her 90s, saying she even picked up the pace in old age, drawing inspiration from events in her own life to become one of Britain's best-loved children's authors.
Kerr was born in Berlin on June 14, 1923, fleeing Germany 10 years later after a policeman tipped off her father Alfred Kerr, a prominent Jewish writer, that the family was in danger from the rising Nazi power.
"My father was ill in bed with flu and this man rang up and said: 'They are trying to take away your passport, you must get out immediately'," she recalled in an interview with AFP in June 2018.
He took the first train to Switzerland and his wife and two children soon joined him. A day after their escape, the Nazis took power.
The family moved on to Paris before settling in London in 1936.
This story is loosely recounted from a child's perspective in Kerr's semi-autobiographical novel "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" (1971) in which the fleeing girl can only take one toy and so leaves behind a favourite rabbit.
Kerr, who started drawing at a young age, credited the success of the book with being "published at a time when the Germans hadn't really managed to talk to their children about the past".
But she is better known for "The Tiger Who Came to Tea", released in 1968 to become a global classic of children's literature, with at least five million copies sold and published in more than 30 languages.
Kerr's first picture book, it tells of a girl and her mother interrupted at teatime by a huge, fluffy tiger who eats everything in sight before leaving again.
She was able to write up the story -- a bedtime favourite of her young daughter -- while her husband was at work and their two children at school.
The fictional family mirrors her own at the time, the illustrations featuring the yellow and white kitchen cupboards of their London home.
Kerr used tigers at a London zoo as models for her feline creation.
Next was "Mog the Forgetful Cat" (1970), the first in what became a 17-book series about the antics of a mischievous, egg-loving moggy inspired by her own pet.
"Goodbye Mog" (2002) was meant to be the last offering -- broaching the subject of death with the much-loved cat departing for heaven. But supermarket chain Sainsbury's persuaded Kerr to produce one more in 2015: "Mog's Christmas Calamity".
Proceeds of the last book were for Save the Children's work on child literacy, and a TV advert was the first to feature Mog in animation with Kerr herself also making a cameo appearance.
In her illustrated story "My Henry" (2011) -- for children and adults -- an elderly lady fantasises about adventures with her late husband, such as climbing Mount Everest, hunting lions, and riding dinosaurs.
Kerr dedicated the book to her husband Thomas Nigel Kneale, a respected screenwriter who died in 2006. The couple met at the BBC, where they both worked, and married in 1954.
Commenting on the book in 2011, The Telegraph wrote: "For all the depth of underlying emotion, there's a celebratory feel to it, an unfeigned lightness of spirit that, throughout her life, has been a great boon.
"It has helped her cope with widowhood just as it allowed her to get over the loss, exile, penury and frustration of her early life."
In 2012 Kerr was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to children's literature and Holocaust education.