Hezbollah backs billionaire Najib Mikati as Lebanese prime minister

Bloomberg reports:

Mikati “is seen as a genuinely neutral figure,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a research adviser at the Doha Institute in Qatar. He “is balanced and enjoys good relations with Syria and Saudi Arabia,” the two main powerbrokers in Lebanon, she said.

Syria, Hezbollah’s backer, was initially blamed for Hariri’s killing by many Lebanese, and withdrew its troops from the country following a wave of protests. Both Syria and Hezbollah have denied responsibility for the murder.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, said in a televised speech yesterday that his group and its allies will seek to form a national unity government if their candidate wins the nomination.

Hezbollah backed Mikati when he was premier for three months in a caretaker government before the 2005 parliamentary elections. The group’s initial choice for the premiership this time was Omar Karami, 76, a pro-Syrian politician. Karami declined to be nominated citing his age and health, Hamdan said.

Mikati, from the northern city of Tripoli, is worth $2.5 billion according to Forbes magazine. He founded Investcom, which runs phone networks in emerging markets, with his brother, Taha, in 1982. MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest mobile-phone operator, bought the company in 2006 for $5.5 billion.

Mikati called for “solidarity to bring the country out of this severe crisis,” and said his candidacy isn’t “a challenge to anyone,” according to a statement on his website.

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