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BREAKING NEWS

Lebanese MP believes government will be formed this week

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese member of parliament whose Hezbollah-aligned bloc is at the heart of prolonged wrangling that has obstructed a deal on a new national government said on Wednesday he believed it would be formed this week.

Asked if the government would be formed within 24 to 48 hours, Abdul Rahim Mrad told al-Jadeed TV: "I believe it will have been formed, I believe so because the atmosphere today is this."

He is one of six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs whose representation in the cabinet has been one of several obstacles to the formation of the government to be led by prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, also a Sunni.

Hariri said on Tuesday this week would be decisive in efforts to form the government, seen as an essential first step towards addressing the country's extensive economic ills including public debt equal to around 150 percent of GDP.

The Hezbollah aligned Sunni MPs met the head of Hezbollah's political office on Tuesday night. The heavily armed Iran-backed Shi'ite Hezbollah is the most powerful group in the country.

Asked how the latest efforts differed from previous failed attempts to form the government, Mrad said: "The difference is there is a serious atmosphere."

He noted that Gebran Bassil - a Christian politician at the heart of the talks - had "intensified his activities" in the last 24 or 48 hours.

The front page headline of the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper declared on Tuesday: "Balanced concessions accelerate the birth of the government".

(Writing by Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams)

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