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’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 58 min 20 sec ago
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.