BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is holding elections on May 15 that could see a change of power that sends shockwaves far beyond this tiny country wedged between Syria and Israel.
Here is a timeline of the nation’s recent history, from assassinations and war to a devastating explosion and economic collapse.
Lebanese billionaire former Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri is killed on February 14 when a huge bomb explodes as his motorcade drives through Beirut; 21 others also die.
Mass protests erupt, blaming the killing on Syria, which deployed troops during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and kept them there after it ended in 1990.
Damascus’ Shia allies hold their own large rallies in support of Syria, but international pressure forces the troops to pull out.
In July, the Hezbollah armed movement crosses the border with Israel, kidnaps two Israeli soldiers and kills others, triggering a five-week war. At least 1,200 people in Lebanon and 158 Israelis are killed.
After the war, tensions in Lebanon simmer around Hezbollah’s arsenal. In November, Hezbollah and its allies quit the cabinet led by Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and staged street protests against him.
Anti-Syrian politician Pierre Gemayel is assassinated in November.
Hezbollah and its allies maintain a sit-in protest in central Beirut against the Siniora government throughout the year. Their declared demand is the right of veto to the government.
Wissam Eid, a police intelligence officer investigating Hariri’s assassination, was killed by a car bomb in January.
In May, the government banned Hezbollah’s telecommunications network. Hezbollah calls the government’s decision a declaration of war and seizes control of predominantly Muslim West Beirut in retaliation.
After mediation, the rival leaders sign an agreement in Qatar to end 18 months of political conflict.
The government led by Hariri’s son and political heir, Saad, was toppled when Hezbollah and its allies resigned due to tensions around a UN-backed tribunal over the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.
Hezbollah fighters deploy to Syria to aid President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against a Sunni rebellion.
In October, a car bomb kills senior security official Wissam al-Hassan, whose intelligence services had arrested Michel Samaha, a former pro-Syrian minister accused of transporting bombs assembled by Syrians to carry out attacks in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia, a regional Sunni superpower increasingly frustrated by Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon, is accused of detaining Saad al-Hariri in Riyadh and forcing him to resign.
Riyadh and Hariri publicly deny this version of events, although French leader Emmanuel Macron later said Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon is holding its first parliamentary vote since 2009, after lawmakers repeatedly extended their term by four years, citing security concerns.
Hezbollah and allied groups and individuals win at least 69 of the 128 seats, consolidating their hold on the legislature.
Despite a sluggish economy and slowing capital inflows, the government is failing to implement reforms that could unlock foreign support, including cutting wages and state pensions.
In October, a government decision to tax internet calls sparked mass interfaith protests accusing the ruling elite of corruption and mismanagement.
Hariri resigns on October 29. The financial crisis is accelerating. Depositors are being deprived of their savings amid a shortage of hard currency liquidity and a currency crash.
Hassan Diab, a little-known academic, becomes prime minister in January with the support of Hezbollah and its allies.
Lebanon defaults on its sovereign debt in March, the currency loses up to 80% of its value and poverty rates soar.
Talks with the International Monetary Fund break down as major parties and influential banks resist a financial recovery plan.
On August 4, a large quantity of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people, injuring 6,000 and devastating entire sections of Beirut.
The Diab cabinet resigns and Hariri is nominated to form a new government, but the parties remain at odds over portfolios.
A UN-backed tribunal convicts a Hezbollah member of conspiracy to kill Rafic al-Hariri 15 years after his death.
The economic crisis is getting worse. Hariri abandons his efforts to form a government and blames President Michel Aoun for the failure.
In August, the central bank declares that it can no longer fund fuel import subsidies, causing power outages and fuel shortages that lead to long queues and sporadic violence at gas stations.
A tanker explodes in the north, killing more than 20 people.
In September, after more than a year of wrangling over ministerial posts, a new cabinet was finally agreed, led by Najib Mikati.
His work is quickly derailed by the tensions aroused by the investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah and its ally Amal are calling for the dismissal of investigating judge Tarek Bitar after he indicted some of their allies.
Shiite parties call for protest against the judge. Six of their supporters are shot when violence erupts. Hezbollah accuses the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party.
The investigation into the port explosion comes to a halt, hampered by a flood of legal complaints against the judge by officials he blamed for the disaster.
Gulf states are recalling their ambassadors and Saudi Arabia is banning all Lebanese imports in protest at comments by a pro-Hezbollah minister criticizing Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen.
In January, the pound collapsed to 34,000 against the dollar before being strengthened by the intervention of the central bank.
The World Bank accuses the ruling class of having “orchestrated” one of the worst national economic depressions in the world because of its grip on resources.
In April, Lebanon reaches a draft agreement with the IMF for possible support of $3 billion, depending on Beirut’s implementation of long-delayed reforms.
The ambassadors of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia return. Saudi Arabia and France announce a joint fund of 30 million euros ($32 million) to strengthen health and other services in Lebanon.
Hariri announces that he and his Future Movement will not stand in the May legislative elections.
($1 = 0.9471 euros)
(Writing by Tom Perry and William Maclean; Editing by Maya Gebeily, Mike Collett-White and Pravin Char)