UN slams Lebanon’s failure to form government as ‘irresponsible’

The World Bank warned the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise to 50% if economic conditions worsen.
Sunday 12/01/2020
Patience running thin. An anti-government protester shouts slogans and knocks on a pan during a protest outside the residence of Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab in Beirut, January 5. 	(AP)
Patience running thin. An anti-government protester shouts slogans and knocks on a pan during a protest outside the residence of Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab in Beirut, January 5. (AP)

BEIRUT- Keeping Lebanon without a government is “increasingly irresponsible,” a senior UN official said in tough criticism of Lebanese leaders as the country sinks deeper into crisis without a rescue plan.

Lebanon has been without a functioning government since Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister in October after protests against the political elite over corruption, leaving the country adrift as a financial and economic crisis deepens.

Spiralling regional tensions since the killing of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani by the United States and threats made by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah have added to the risks facing the heavily indebted Lebanon.

The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is sanctioned by the United States and exercises major sway in Beirut, has said Iran’s allies must help exact revenge.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed Hezbollah was acting as the hands and eyes of Lebanon.

“Given the situation and developments in the country and the region it is increasingly irresponsible to keep Lebanon without an effective and credible government,” UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said in a Twitter post January 8. “I urge the leaders to move without any further delay.”

Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war has seen the Lebanese pound slump amid a shortage of dollars and banks tightly controlling access to cash and blocking transfers abroad.

Former Economy Minister Nasser Saidi said recently that Lebanon needs an international bailout of up to $25 billion to help avert a potential economic collapse.

The World Bank warned in November that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise to 50% if economic conditions worsen.

After weeks of disputes over the next government, Hariri bowed out of talks with adversaries in December, leading Hezbollah and its political allies to designate Hassan Diab, a former education minister, to form the cabinet.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said a new government was needed to reassure the people. Christian politician Samir Geagea, a staunch Hezbollah critic, said Lebanon faced “a real catastrophe” and officials had wasted three months.

Diab did not win the support of Geagea or Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab countries. Analysts said his political backing from Hezbollah could complicate efforts to secure foreign aid.

“There is still a significant risk that Lebanon gets caught in the cross hairs between the US and its allies and Iran,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

(Reuters)

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