Lebanon's Hariri set to become prime minister

Saad al-Hariri is set to be officially designated as Lebanon's prime minister on Saturday after a majority of parliamentarians nominated the U.S.-backed politician to the post on Friday, officials said, Reuters reported.

They said 67 of 97 MPs canvassed by President Michel Suleiman told him they wanted the young billionaire to form the new cabinet, meaning he secured the required support of a majority of the 128-seat assembly. Suleiman will designate Hariri once he ends consultations with the remaining MPs.

The Beirut stock index rose 2.4 percent earlier in the day, in response to growing confidence that Hariri's nomination would be confirmed. Real estate company Solidere led the rally.

Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system reserves the premiership for a Sunni Muslim.

The sources said Hariri would be nominated by his coalition's 71 MPs as well as the 13 parliamentarians in a bloc led by Nabih Berri, an ally of the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah.

Berri, who was re-elected as parliament speaker on Thursday, told reporters after nominating Hariri that his bloc would not take part in any government unless it was one of "consensus and real participation."

Hezbollah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun, who have 12 and 18 MPs respectively, did not nominate Hariri or anyone else for the post. But Mohammad Raad, leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, said the group was ready to cooperate with Hariri over the formation of the government.

Hariri, who led a U.S.-backed coalition to victory over Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies in this month's election, met Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah overnight.

A joint statement said the men, who had met only once before in three years, had discussed the outcome of the election and the possible shape of the new government.

Hezbollah had called for the formation of a national unity government with veto power for the minority alliance after the election, though the group has not repeated the demand since the vote. Hariri rejects such a veto.

Hariri, 39, had been keen on securing the backing of his powerful Shi'ite rivals, who are close allies of neighboring Syria, to ensure a smooth launch for his administration.

As such immediately after the June 7 election he called for the shelving of the contentious issue of disarming Hezbollah. The group, labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States, has battled Israeli forces since the early 1980s.

It fought a 34-day war against Israel in 2006, in which 1,200 people died in Lebanon and some 160 in Israel.

Saudi Arabia and western countries including the United States have been major supporters of Hariri, whose father Rafik was assassinated in 2005. Hariri led his coalition through a bitter and sometimes bloody power struggle with his rivals.

The meeting between Hariri and Nasrallah also aimed at defusing Sunni-Shi'ite tensions that last year threatened to boil over into a civil war when Hezbollah fighters routed Hariri and his allies' supporters in Beirut and mountains to the east.

A Qatari-sponsored deal in May, 2008 defused the crisis but sectarian tensions rose again in the run-up to the election.

Pursuing justice for his father and other anti-Syrian figures assassinated since 2005 had been one of Hariri's priorities. He twice passed up the chance of becoming prime minister, preferring to giving the post to his father's senior aide, Fouad Siniora.

He had repeatedly accused Syria of the killings but has toned down his anti-Syrian rhetoric since the establishment of an international tribunal to try the killers earlier this year.

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