Hezbollah calls for talks on Lebanon state debt

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, reads the government policy statement in the Lebanese parliament. (AP)
Updated 13 February 2019
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Hezbollah calls for talks on Lebanon state debt

  • Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government last month categorically ruled out restructuring and pledged to repay debt at existing interest rates

BEIRUT: Hezbollah urged Lebanon’s new government on Tuesday to negotiate with banks to restructure the country’s massive national debt.

The unprecedented call by a Hezbollah member of Parliament suggests that the group, which for the first time controls three ministries, is ready to flex its muscles in the new administration.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government last month categorically ruled out restructuring and pledged to repay debt at existing interest rates. Lebanon has one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, at about 150 percent.

“I call on the government to hold dialogue with the banks, serious and constructive dialogue to reduce the cost of the debt,” Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said.

“Yes we are all in one boat, and the banks are with us in this boat. God forbid if the financial and monetary situation is shaken, what will happen to these banks?”

Fadlallah said his group would wage a “battle” against corruption, and government reforms should “start at the top and not the bottom.”

Hezbollah “is going to engage in the difficult fight against corruption because the people’s money is like the people’s blood,” he said. “Our opponent is the corrupt and we are ready to cooperate with anyone who wants to fight corruption.”

Hariri asked Parliament to support his government’s reform program “because we want a government of deeds, not a government of words.”

He said: “The government wants to address these problems, the most important of which are … financial corruption and tax evasion.

“Bold and specific decisions, legislation and reforms are needed. That may be difficult and painful, but it is necessary to avoid the deterioration of economic, financial and social conditions toward more difficult and painful situations.”

The debate on the government’s policy statement continues on Wednesday, after which it is expected to be approved in a parliamentary vote of confidence.


Erdogan: Turkey’s S-400 missile systems purchase from Russia ‘done deal’

Updated 52 min 49 sec ago
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Erdogan: Turkey’s S-400 missile systems purchase from Russia ‘done deal’

ANKARA: Turkey will not turn back from its deal to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Saturday, a day after an informal deadline Washington set for Ankara to respond to a rival offer passed.
NATO member Turkey has repeatedly said it is committed to buying the Russian missile defense system, despite warnings from the US-led alliance that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defense system.
US officials had set an informal deadline of February 15 for Ankara to respond to the rival US offer and have said that if Turkey proceeds with the S-400 purchase, Washington will withdraw its offer to sell a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co. Patriot missile package.
They have also said it would jeopardize Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighter jets and possibly result in the United States imposing sanctions.
However, speaking to reporters on the flight back from the Russian resort of Sochi, where a three-way summit on Syria between Turkey, Russia and Iran was held, Erdogan said Ankara would press on with the S-400 purchases.
“We made the S-400 deal with Russia, so it out of the question for us to turn back. That’s done,” Erdogan said, according to broadcaster NTV.
He said Turkey was open to purchasing Patriot systems from the United States as long as the deal served Turkey’s interests, but added there were issues on delivery and production that were still being discussed with Washington.
“The US administration views the early delivery issue positively, but they won’t say anything about joint production or a credit. We continue our work based on the promise of the S-400 deliveries in July.”
The formal US offer for Turkey’s purchase of Patriot systems expires at the end of March, US officials have told Reuters, after which a new offer would have to be submitted.
The US asked Turkey to give at least an informal answer on whether it would go ahead with its S-400 purchase by February 15, one US official said.
It was not immediately clear whether Turkey had responded to the US offer.