Violence in Beirut is a setback but will be overcome – PM Mikati | World news


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By Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Thursday’s violence was a setback for the country but would be overcome, adding that his cabinet was working to provide the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the necessary financial figures before the talks to pull the country out of its economic collapse.

Mikati spoke to Reuters after a deadly shootout rocked the capital Beirut as tensions over an investigation into last year’s massive explosion in Beirut erupted in the worst street violence in more than a decade, killing six Shiites.

“Lebanon is going through a difficult and not easy phase. We are like a patient in the emergency room,” Mikati said in an interview.

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“We have a lot of steps after that to complete the recovery,” he said, adding that the country’s central bank had no foreign currency liquidity it could use.

Mikati’s cabinet took office last month after more than a year of political deadlock, with a focus on relaunching talks with the IMF to pull the country out of a deep financial crisis that has plunged more three quarters of its population in poverty.

But a months-long row over the lead investigator over the deadly Beirut port explosion last year threatened to upset her when Shia ministers, allied with the Hezbollah and Amal movements who oppose the judge , demanded his dismissal.

“Anyone who wants to resign must take responsibility for his decision,” Mikati said when asked if the ministers threatened to resign following the request.

He said it was not the job of politicians to interfere with the justice system but that the body should correct its own mistakes.

“A judge must first protect the law and the constitution,” he said.

“Many, including myself, say that there may be a constitutional error, but it is the judiciary that has to decide and this body can rectify itself, not the politicians.”

Despite the distraction from the cabinet’s focus on economic recovery, Mikati said the necessary financial data would be provided to the IMF “in the coming days.”

The Lebanese financial system collapsed in 2019 after decades of corruption and waste in the state and the unsustainable way in which it was financed.

Over the past two years, the country’s currency has lost over 90% of its value, and the World Bank has called the economic crisis one of the deepest depressions in modern history.

Talks with the IMF stalled last year after the previous government drew up a financial stimulus package that forecast losses of around $ 90 billion in the financial sector.

The figure was approved by the IMF, but many major Lebanese political players have contested the scale of the losses.

When asked if a new figure for loss size or distribution has been determined, Mikati said he couldn’t reveal any data until he shared it with the IMF.

Financial advisory firm Lazard drafted the initial stimulus plan for Lebanon last year and was asked to continue in its role after Mikati’s cabinet was formed. Mikati said he was waiting for figures to be submitted by the government next week to complete his plan.

“I would have hoped (the figures will be submitted) as soon as possible but (…) in the light of the current circumstances, there is a little delay which is beyond our control but soon talks with the IMF will officially begin and completely. “

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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