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Lebanon deadlock remains after PM quits

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Lebanese President Michel Aoun has asked the resigned government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to continue on a caretaker basis until a new cabinet is formed, as security forces began opening major roads after two weeks of huge protests that paralysed the country.

The army had asked demonstrators earlier on Wednesday to voluntarily clear all roadblocks to ensure that life returns to normal.

The move came a day after Hariri announced the resignation of his government in a televised address to the nation, saying he had hit a “dead-end” in his attempts to resolve a crisis unleashed by the massive protests against the political elite amid widespread anger over years of economic mismanagement and corruption.

Hariri’s announcement satisfied one of the main demands of the leaderless protest movement, which has brought together people from across Lebanon’s political and religious divides, but demonstrators pledged to keep pushing for deeper change.

Still, with no obvious alternative to Hariri to fill the post of prime minister, which is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s power-sharing system, there is no clear way out of the political crisis.

In line with the Constitution, Aoun, who will deliver a speech on Thursday evening, asked Hariri to stay on as caretaker prime minister. The president is now expected to launch consultations with the leaders of political blocs in Parliament to discuss the appointment of a potential new prime minister.

“There is still a deadlock, but by the very fact that the president has still not set a date for these consultations [to begin] is an indication that they are trying to find some sort of a compromise formula behind the scenes,” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said.

“If they cannot reach an agreement, we might witness a prolonged power vacuum.”

Following elections last year, it had taken Hariri nine months to piece together the coalition government bringing together nearly all of Lebanon’s feuding parties, including the Shia group Hezbollah and the Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement.

But he entered his third government weakened by a balance of power that had shifted in favour of the heavily armed Hezbollah, which together with its allies won a majority of MPs in the elections while Hariri lost a third of his.

Lebanon is governed by a power-sharing agreement known as the “Taif accords”, designed to redistribute power after the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990. The number of seats in parliament is equally split between Christians and Muslims.The president must be a Christian and the Parliament’s speaker a Shia Muslim, while the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim.