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Lebanese security forces, protesters clash ahead of vote

Demonstrators are sprayed with a water cannon during protests seeking to prevent MPs and government officials from reaching the parliament for a vote of confidence, in Beirut, Lebanon February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters trying to block MPs and ministers from reaching parliament on Tuesday for a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s new cabinet.

MPs are set to vote on a government policy statement that says “painful steps” are needed to address a financial crisis which has led the currency to lose a third of its value and banks to severely curb access to deposits.

Seeking to thwart the vote, hundreds of protesters gathered from early in the morning in central Beirut where security forces blocked off all the roads leading to the barricaded parliament building.

Protesters lobbed rocks at security forces deployed at several locations around the city centre.

One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is facing a crisis rooted in decades of state waste and corruption.

The crisis came to a head last year as slowing flows of capital from abroad led to a hard currency crunch and protests erupted against the ruling elite.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said Lebanon should seek IMF technical help and take a decision on whether to pay maturing foreign debt next month based on IMF advice, an-Nahar newspaper and a government source said on Tuesday.

Lebanon could not, however, surrender itself to the IMF because the nation could not bear its conditions, he said.

Berri is one of the most influential figures in the country and his Amal Movement named a number of ministers in the Diab-led cabinet which took office last month, including the minister of finance.

Berri said Lebanon must take advantage of the time remaining before its next debt maturity on March 9 to send a message abroad, “specifically to the Americans” that the country needs IMF technical help through a rescue plan.

“There is still room for Lebanon during the coming two weeks and before the end of the current month to benefit from this measure,” Berri was quoted as saying.

Based on this, “Lebanon will be able to form its position on the maturing Eurobonds – whether to pay its commitments or not to pay them – based on what the IMF advises.”

But Berri also said the Lebanese people would be unable to bear IMF conditions, saying Lebanon was not Greece or Argentina – countries that have experienced their own financial crises.

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