A moderate politician and billionaire businessman with close ties to Syria emerged Monday as a candidate favoured by Hezbollah to head Lebanon's next government.
Lawmaker Najib Mikati, who served briefly as premier in 2005, announced he is seeking the post as a candidate of "moderation and accord" in formal talks starting Monday to choose a new prime minister.
Lebanon is in the midst of a political crisis nearly two weeks after the Shiite militant group Hezbollah brought down the country's unity government, headed by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Hariri said Monday he won't take part in any government headed by a Hezbollah-backed candidate.
Hariri made the announcement Monday as President Michel Suleiman began two days of consultations with lawmakers over their choice of premier.
Hezbollah wanted Hariri to renounce a UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, prominent Sunni businessman and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Many fear Hezbollah will react violently if its members are indicted, as is widely expected.
Ministers from the Syria- and Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies walked out of the government, forcing its collapse, after Hariri refused to disown the court which Hezbollah says lacks credibility.
Mikati, a Harvard graduate, is seen as a relatively neutral figure who enjoys good relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad and also with the pro-Western Hariri.
Mikati's candidacy brings Hezbollah and its allies closer to getting enough support to form a government on their own.
He is a founder of Mikati Communications Group, which includes Investcom, a leading Middle Eastern mobile phone company that has interests in Yemen, Syria and Cyprus.
The support of at least 65 lawmakers is required to form a government in Lebanon's 128-seat Parliament.