Lebanese tycoon Mohammed Safadi withdraws PM candidacy

Former Lebanese finance minister and business tycoon Mohammed Safadi has withdrawn his candidacy to be the next prime minister, amid pressure from protesters who have been calling for an overhaul of the country’s political system.

In a statement released by his office on Saturday, Safadi, 75, said it would be difficult to form a “harmonious” cabinet supported by all the parties.

Safadi added that he hoped outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri would be designated again for the post.

Hariri quit on October 29 in the face of unprecedented anti-government protests against a ruling class that is widely accused of overseeing rampant state corruption and steering Lebanon into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 war.

Safadi, a former member of parliament from the predominantly Sunni northern city of Tripoli, emerged as a candidate on Thursday when political sources and Lebanese media said three major parties had agreed to support him for the position.

On Thursday night, thousands of Lebanese protesters took to the streets of Beirut, shouting “Thief”, shortly after local media reported Safadi had been nominated as the country’s next prime minister.

Protesters rejected Safadi’s potential nomination, saying it would run counter to nationwide protests calling to remove a political elite they see him as part of.

Demonstrators also gathered in front of one of his properties in his hometown of Tripoli to protest against what they regarded as a provocation.

Safadi was finance minister from 2011 to 2014 under Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and was also previously minister of economy and trade.

He has maintained close relations with the Saudi royal family. In 1975, he left Lebanon for the kingdom and built a business empire in the construction field.

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