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Lebanese PM-designate Hariri: Government needed to restore trust, hope

Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri, speaks to journalists after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri, speaks to journalists after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister-designate says that a government that can restart talks with the International Monetary Fund is the only way to halt the country’s rapid economic collapse, adding there is still opportunity to form such a Cabinet.

Saad Hariri speaks a day after trading barbs with President Michel Aoun over who is to blame for the five-month delay in forming the Cabinet, while the country unravels. The economic and financial crisis roiling Lebanon is the gravest threat to its stability since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

Hariri, who was tasked by Aoun to form a Cabinet in October, held an hour-long meeting with the president today, a day after Aoun urged him to form a government immediately or step aside. Hariri in turn challenged the president to step down, saying Aoun had rejected multiple proposals over the past five months.

Hariri says there is still an opportunity for a government to be formed and says he will meet again with Aoun on Monday. He says a government is necessary to restart talks with the IMF to restructure Lebanon’s debts and to restore the confidence of the world community. Talks with the IMF last year failed to reach a deal.

Lebanon’s local currency has been in a free fall since late 2019, losing over 90% of its value. The government defaulted on its foreign debt last year and nearly half the population has been pushed into poverty and unemployment.

Prices of basic goods have increased and inflation has soared. Banks have imposed informal controls on people’s savings, and the Central Bank’s foreign reserves have shrunk in a country dependent on imports.

The outgoing government resigned last August, following a massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed 211 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.

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