Lebanon's Bassil suggests government talks near "happy ending"

Credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR

Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, signalled on Tuesday that progress had been made in talks on forming a new government that must pull the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.

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BEIRUT, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, signalled on Tuesday that progress had been made in talks on forming a new government that must pull the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.

Talks between the main feuding parties have been deadlocked since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister in late October under pressure from huge protests against the ruling elite.

A previous deal had appeared to be done but unravelled last month after a candidate for premier withdrew.

Political sources said on Tuesday progress had been made in negotiations to form an interim cabinet with Lebanese businessman Samir al-Khatib as prime minister.

Bassil said there was now agreement on a government headed by "a trusted figure Hariri fully backs" and with a majority of "competent, specialized" people.

"The government must be open to everyone," he told a news conference. "We have hope that matters have reached close to a happy ending."

President Michel Aoun was cited earlier as saying the coming days would bring "positive developments".

Lebanese politicians must agree a government that can enact reforms and attract foreign support to stave off even worse collapse after years of bad governance, corruption and waste.

The economic crisis, long in the making, has come to a head. A hard currency crunch has left many importers unable to bring in goods, forcing up prices. Banks have curbed U.S. dollar withdrawals and blocked nearly all transfers abroad.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Jon Boyle and Angus MacSwan)

((Ellen.Francis@thomsonreuters.com;))

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