Lebanon set to request technical assistance from IMF

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab presents his government's policy statement to parliament during a session for a vote of confidence in Beirut on Tuesday, Feb. 11. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Lebanon set to request technical assistance from IMF

  • Crises in the country necessitate harsh measures for Lebanese, says President Michel Aoun

BEIRUT: Senior Lebanese politicians are expected to refuse to pay an external debt on time and are seeking technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said: “The financial and economic crises that Lebanon suffers from can no longer be solved easily and have necessitated relatively harsh measures for the Lebanese, and the cost today is higher than before.”

On Wednesday, Aoun warned that “everyone who reached out to the treasury will be tried according to the law before a special court specializing in financial crimes against public money.”

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which won modest confidence in parliamentary votes on Tuesday night, faces its first financial obligation after 25 days, as Lebanon has to pay a domestic and external debt of $1.2 billion. The debt consists of treasury bonds issued by the Ministry of Finance in March 2010 for a period of 10 years, with an annual interest of 6.375 percent. The external debt is about $800 million, while the domestic debt is about $400 million.

A source close to Minister of Finance Ghazi Wazani told Arab News: “The government is moving toward developing a program to request technical assistance from the IMF and launch a negotiation process with creditors based on the advice of the IMF, with the aim of restructuring public debt in order to avoid seizure of the ministries by the IMF and interference in Lebanon’s economic policy.”

Marathon meetings are being held at the Ministry of Finance to prepare this plan before the end of February. The source said: “There are two tendencies in the state, a political tendency to postpone the payment of the debt and an economic tendency to pay the debt on time and negotiate over the coming months.”

An economist loyal to the political opposition in Lebanon told Arab News, on condition of anonymity, that “Lebanon can postpone the payment of its debt in one case when it has an integrated plan to present to the creditors and tell them ‘this is the solution.’ Restructuring of the debt is part of this solution. Going to the creditors without a plan is the easiest way to take Lebanon to a new crisis situation.”

The economist pointed out that “there are those who say that paying the debt will be from the accounts of the depositors in banks. If it is correct, what will happen? The government talked about an emergency plan. Is this the program that you will present to the IMF and creditors? Why was this plan not attached to the ministerial statement to gain confidence on the basis of it in parliament?”

The Association of Banks in Lebanon urged the government to pay the debt on time. The association said that Lebanon “has already pledged to fulfill its financial obligations.”

The association said in a statement that “failure to pay Lebanon’s external debts should be thought about very carefully. What is required is time, contacts, mechanisms that are in line with international standards and seeking the assistance of the competent international bodies. The remaining period until the debt is due is very short and does not allow time for preparation and dealing efficiently with this important national issue.”

Economist Jad Shaban, who is one of the activists in the civil movement, told Arab News:“The government must define its priorities. Is preserving Lebanon’s international reputation more important than ensuring the state’s finances? Lebanon has a very low credit rating and losses have become a reality, and the government must now prioritize its assets in dollars.”

Shaban added that the government “lacks popular legitimacy because it is a new facade of the existing authority.”

The International Support Group for Lebanon stressed Beirut must “implement concrete, credible and comprehensive reforms quickly and resolutely to stop and reverse the growing crises, and to meet the needs and demands of the Lebanese people.”

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.