August 9, 2019 / 11:14 AM / 15 days ago

Lebanese cabinet to meet on Saturday

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s cabinet will meet for the first time in weeks on Saturday, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Friday, after rival Druze politicians reconciled to end a crisis that has paralyzed the government.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Lebanese dollar-demominated bonds rallied earlier on Friday on the news that the country’s leaders would meet with Druze politicians Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan.

“God willing, from today onwards, there will be a new page and we will all cooperate together in the interests of the country and in the interests of the Lebanese citizen,” Hariri said in a televised statement, confirming their reconciliation.

He was speaking after a meeting between Lebanon’s top officials to discuss the economy, adding that they were committed to approving the 2020 budget on time and sticking to the 2019 budget, which was passed last month.

Hariri’s government, which has one of the world’s highest levels of public debt worth around 150% of GDP, is seeking to bring down its annual fiscal deficit and to boost the economy.

The meeting was chaired by President Michel Aoun and included Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, as well as the finance and economy and trade ministers and the central bank governor.

The participants confirmed their clear commitment to maintaining the stability of Lebanon’s currency, which is pegged to the dollar, Hariri said.

They agreed to develop a detailed plan to launch investment projects decided by parliament amounting to $3.3 billion in addition to project finance promised by foreign donors at a Paris conference last year, he said.

They also agreed to fully implement a plan to resolve Lebanon’s costly electricity crisis, a major contributor to the country’s public debt, and on reforms to the tendering laws and to combat tax evasion, he added.

The standoff between Jumblatt and Arslan’s political parties was sparked by a shooting in the Chouf mountains on June 30 in which two aides of a government minister, Saleh al-Gharib, an ally of Arslan, were killed.

Gharib declared it an assassination attempt, for which his allies held Jumblatt’s party responsible.

Jumblatt’s party says it was an exchange of fire initiated by Gharib’s entourage in which two Jumblatt supporters were also wounded.

The sides have been at odds over which court should deal with the case.

With both sides represented in Hariri’s cabinet, the government was unable to convene, complicating efforts to enact reforms that are urgently needed to steer the country away from financial crisis.

Reporting by Tom Perry/Laila Bassam; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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