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IMF says it begins financial aid talks after request from Lebanon

Muslim worshippers pray during Friday prayers at a gas station to protest severe fuel shortages that Lebanon has been witnessing for weeks, in the coastal town of Jiyeh, south of Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday, September 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Muslim worshippers pray during Friday prayers at a gas station to protest severe fuel shortages that Lebanon has been witnessing for weeks, in the coastal town of Jiyeh, south of Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday, September 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The International Monetary Fund has begun “preparatory” talks with Lebanon on a new aid package after receiving an official request from Beirut, says an IMF spokesman.

That will be a welcome relief to the new government that is trying to stem an economic crisis the World Bank brands as one of the worst since the mid-19th century, and which has caused Lebanon’s currency to collapse.

“The IMF has received a letter from Prime Minister [Najib] Mikati of Lebanon expressing the authorities’ interest in a fund program,” says IMF spokesman Gerry Rice. “And I can tell you that preparatory technical discussions have started.”

Lebanon hopes the talks with the Washington-based crisis lender will help unlock billions of dollars in financial aid.

Lebanon’s currency, the pound, has lost almost 90 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market since 2019, and people’s savings are trapped in banks. Inflation has soared, and 78% of all Lebanese now live in poverty, according to the UN.

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