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Middle East

Lebanon PM Hariri agrees reform package in bid to resolve economic crisis

Demonstrators carry national flags during an anti-government protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has agreed a package of reforms with government partners to ease an economic crisis that has sparked nationwide protests, official sources told Reuters, with a cabinet meeting expected on Monday to approve them.

Hariri, who is leading a coalition government mired by sectarian and political rivalries, gave his feuding government partners a 72-hour deadline on Friday to agree reforms that could ward off crisis, hinting he may otherwise resign.

The decisions call for a 50% reduction in the salaries of current and former officials and $3.3 billion in contributions from banks to achieve a “near zero deficit” for the 2020 budget.

It also includes a plan to privatise its telecommunications sector and an overhaul to its crippled electricity sector, a crucial demand among potential foreign donors and investors needed to unlock some $11 billion in funds to Lebanon.

The sources said the budget would not include any additional taxes or fees amid widespread unrest that were triggered in part by a decision last week to put a levy on WhatsApp calls.

The reforms also called for establishing new regulatory and transparency bodies within a “short period” of time to oversee reform plans. Central to protester demands is an end to what they say is rampant corruption destroying the economy.

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