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More clashes, protests in Lebanon

Security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters in Beirut on Tuesday as the Lebanese parliament convened to hold a vote of confidence on the new government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

MPs are set to vote on the government’s policy statement which says “painful steps” are needed to address a financial crisis that has weakened the currency and pushed banks to severely curb access to deposits.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in central Beirut to try to block MPs from reaching the parliamentary building. Security forces blocked off all the roads leading to the barricaded parliament district.

Men and women, their faces wrapped in scarves, lobbed rocks at security forces deployed at several locations around the city center as clouds of tear gas engulfed them.

Protesters hurled eggs and threw paint at the cars of lawmakers and ministers while others tried to smash their tinted windows.

Some MPs skirted the clashes, arriving at parliament on the back of motorcycles. Crowds chanted revolution, waved Lebanese flags and held signs that said “no confidence”.

One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is facing a crisis rooted in decades of state waste and corruption which have fueled public anger.

The crisis came to a head last year as slowing flows of capital from abroad led to a hard currency crunch and protests erupted across the country against the ruling elite.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said Lebanon should seek IMF technical help and take a decision on whether to pay maturing foreign debt next month based on IMF advice, an-Nahar newspaper and a government source said on Tuesday.

Lebanon could not, however, surrender itself to the IMF because the nation could not bear its conditions, he said.

Senior MP Alain Aoun told Reuters on Tuesday the country needs IMF technical assistance and should draw on IMF advice in its decision on whether to pay a forthcoming Eurobond maturity.

He said this was also expected to be the position of his political party, the FPM which was founded by President Michel Aoun and named six ministers.

Berri said Lebanon must take advantage of the time remaining before its next debt maturity on March 9 to send a message abroad, “specifically to the Americans” that the country needs IMF technical help through a rescue plan.

Berri is one of the country’s most influential figures and his Amal Movement named a number of ministers in Diab’s cabinet which took office last month, including the finance minister.

“There is still room for Lebanon during the coming two weeks and before the end of the current month to benefit from this measure,” Berri was quoted as saying.

Based on this, “Lebanon will be able to form its position on the maturing Eurobonds – whether to pay its commitments or not to pay them – based on what the IMF advises.”

But Berri also said the Lebanese people would be unable to bear IMF conditions, saying Lebanon was not Greece or Argentina – countries that have experienced their own financial crises.

Source: Reuters

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