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Lebanon’s int’l backers lend their support to new premier

February 12, 2020 GMT
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A protester shouts slogans in front of army soldiers during a protest against a parliament session vote of confidence for the new government in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Clashes broke out Tuesday between Lebanese protesters and security forces near the parliament building in central Beirut, where the new Cabinet is scheduled to submit its policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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A protester shouts slogans in front of army soldiers during a protest against a parliament session vote of confidence for the new government in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Clashes broke out Tuesday between Lebanese protesters and security forces near the parliament building in central Beirut, where the new Cabinet is scheduled to submit its policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s international backers said Wednesday they supported its new Cabinet, while urging it to swiftly tackle the country’s snowballing crises amid ongoing anti-government protests.

The group urged Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government to commit to major reforms that would “stop and reverse the deepening crises” afflicting the country economically and politically. Those issuing the statement included international partners like France, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

Lebanon’s economic slump has sparked months of mass protests against its government and ruling elite, many of them in power since the end of the 15-year-long civil war in 1990.

Diab, a former professor at the American University of Beirut, was picked by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its allies after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned at the end of October, two weeks after the nationwide protests erupted.

The new Cabinet secured 63 votes out of the 84 lawmakers who attended Tuesday’s session. Over forty lawmakers skipped the vote while the protesters hurled stones at security forces outside the fortified barriers surrounding the legislative chamber.

Diab urged the international community, and local opponents, to give his government a chance.

Lebanon is at the center of a foreign power play between supporters and detractors of Iran. Hezbollah, a major ally of Tehran, has come under intensifying U.S. sanctions as Washington seeks to put pressure on Iran and its regional allies.

Thousands of protesters clashed with security forces outside the Parliament on Tuesday while lawmakers voted on the new government. Nearly 400 people were injured in the melee.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Diab said he fully realized the massive task ahead but was confident it was possible to rescue Lebanon’s economy from complete collapse — and that his government would get to work immediately.

Diab vowed to fight corruption, while ushering in judicial, financial and administrative reforms, but offered few specifics in his 16-page plan.

Amid a spiraling financial crisis, Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls on withdrawals of U.S. dollars and halted transfers of foreign currency abroad.

Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150% of GDP with no economic growth, a liquidity crunch and high unemployment.

International donors had pledged some $11 billion in grants and loans for Lebanon in 2018, calling for major reforms to unleash the money. In recent weeks, friendly nations have said they will not bail Lebanon out without those major policy and regulatory changes.

On Wednesday, the international group, which also includes the European Union, Britain, China, Germany and Italy, said it supports Lebanon’s efforts to restore economic stability, credibility of the financial sector and key sector reforms. It also announced its support for peaceful protests.