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Beirut violence is a setback but will be overcome – PM Mikati

October 14, 2021

By Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s 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 necessary financial figures ahead of talks to pull the country out of its economic meltdown.

Mikati spoke to Reuters after a deadly shooting rocked the capital Beirut as tensions over a probe into last year’s massive blast in Beirut burst into the worst street violence in more than a decade, leaving six Shi’ites dead.

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

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

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

But a row simmering for months over the lead investigator into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast threatened to upend it when Shi’ite ministers, allied to the Hezbollah and Amal movements who oppose the judge, demanded his removal.

“Everyone who wants to resign should bear the responsibility of his decision,” Mikati said when asked about whether ministers had threatened to resign over the demand.

He said it was not the job of politicians to interfere in the judiciary but that the body should correct its own errors.

“A judge should firstly protect the law and the constitution,” he said.

“Many, including myself say may be there is a constitutional error but this the judiciary has to decide and that 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.”

Lebanon’s financial system collapsed in 2019 after decades of corruption and waste in the state and the unsustainable way it was financed.

Over the past two years, the country has lost more than 90% of its value and the World Bank has dubbed the economic meltdown as one of the deepest depressions in modern history.

IMF talks stalled last year after the previous government drew up a financial recovery plan that mapped out losses of some $90 billion in the financial sector.

The figure was endorsed by the IMF but many of Lebanon’s main political players disputed the scale of the losses.

When asked whether a new figure for the size of the losses or the distribution was determined, Mikati said he could not reveal data before sharing it with the IMF.

Financial advisory firm Lazard drafted the original recovery plan for Lebanon last year and was asked to continue its role after Mikati’s cabinet was formed. Mikati said it was waiting on some figures that would be handed over by the government next week to complete their plan.

“I would have hoped for (figures to be handed over) sooner rather than later but … in light of the current circumstances there is a bit of delay that is outside of our power but soon the talks with the IMF will start formally and completely.”

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

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