Lebanese government departments must cut 2018 budgets by 20%, PM Hariri says

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri gives a speech during the opening ceremony of the second “Kuwait Financial Forum” in Kuwait City on October 31,2010. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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Lebanese government departments must cut 2018 budgets by 20%, PM Hariri says

BEIRUT: All Lebanese government institutions must cut their 2018 budgets by 20 percent as part of the country’s efforts to revamp its struggling economy, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said on Tuesday.
Costs must be reduced “in accordance with the policy of spending rationalization and controlling public finances,” a statement from Hariri’s office said.
Lebanon’s economy has been battered by six years of war in neighboring Syria and by simmering political divisions.
After years of paralysis in government decision-making, Lebanon last year passed its first government budget since 2005.
The government is now trying to finalize the 2018 budget, in which analysts and politicians have said they hope to see serious efforts made to get the state’s finances in order.
Growth slowed from an average of eight percent before the Syrian conflict began in 2011 and the country has one of the world’s highest ratios of debt to gross domestic product, around 140 percent. 2017 growth is estimated to be about 2.5 percent.
The order to slash budgets comes ahead of a major donor conference to be held in Paris in March, at which Lebanon is expected to seek support for its economy and army and to help it deal with the approximately one million Syrian refugees the country is hosting.
The country’s crumbling infrastructure has not been overhauled since the end of a 15-year civil war in 1990 and Lebanon has plans for a 10-year $16 billion capital investment program.
Lebanon recently engaged management consultant company McKinsey to help transform the stagnating economy.
Ministries must present the amended budgets to the finance ministry within two weeks from the decree’s publication.
Hariri is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.


Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

US this week issued a list of demands to Iran including the pullout of its forces from Syria. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops, a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country.
  • srael has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

MOSCOW: Syria on Wednesday dismissed American calls for the withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militants from the war-torn country.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “this topic is not even on the agenda of discussion, since it concerns the sovereignty of Syria.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands this week for a new nuclear deal with Iran, including the pullout of its forces from Syria, where they have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad’s government. Russia is also a key ally of Assad, and has been waging an air campaign in Syria since 2015.

Mikdad said in Wednesday’s remarks that Syria “highly appreciates” Russia’s military support as well as “advisers” from Iran and Hezbollah. He added that “we cannot let anyone even raise this issue” of the Iranian withdrawal. “Those who ask for something like that — and this is definitely not our Russian friends — are considering the possibility of intervention in all parts of Syria, including the support of terrorists in Syria and elsewhere in the region,” Mikdad said.

At a meeting with Assad, who visited Sochi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops.

Putin’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, later commented that the Russian leader’s statement was aimed at the US and Turkey, along with Iran and Hezbollah. It marked a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country. Russia has argued that its troops have deployed at the Syrian government’s invitation, while the military presence of the US and others has been illegal.

Lavrentyev’s statement appeared to reflect a difficult balancing act for the Kremlin, which hopes to maintain good ties with both Iran and Israel. 

Israel has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

During the talks with Assad, Putin also encouraged him to send representatives to a commission in Geneva that would work out proposals for Syria’s new constitution as part of a peace process.

Mikdad said, however, that Damascus is not ready yet to nominate its candidates to the body.

“It is too early to speak about (candidates), but there are many people who are able to represent Syria and the Syrian government in these talks,” he said.

In Moscow, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian military’s General Staff, pointed at the Syrian troops’ recent gains, saying Wednesday that “all the necessary conditions have been created for the revival of Syria as a single, unified state.”

He noted the government’s capture of the last remaining opposition enclave in southern Damascus from Daesh militants, which brought the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

The general also said Russia, Iran and Turkey set up nearly 30 checkpoints to monitor the de-escalation zone in the northern province of Idlib as part of a deal the three countries brokered.