Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab insists he will not resign

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab struck a defiant tone on Saturday, saying that he would “not resign” despite hitting a brick wall in negotiations for a bailout with the IMF as the country sinks deeper into its worst economic crisis.

“I will not resign,” Mr Diab told journalists after meeting Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai.

Lebanese politicians, including two ministers affiliated with President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, have publicly discussed the possibility of the government’s resignation.

Government members questioned the “benefit of continuing in light of the lack of achievements”, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar told a local radio station on July 4.

Others pushed for the return of former prime minister Saad Hariri, who stepped down on October 29 under the pressure of nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the economic crisis.

Mr Diab said that if he resigned, “an alternative would not be found easily. We will be a caretaker government for perhaps a year or two, and this is a crime against the country and against the Lebanese.”

Negotiations to form a government or appoint a president in Lebanon can take months or years as political parties must reach a consensus to maintain the country’s delicate sectarian balance.

Protesters face water cannon from riot police during a demonstration organised by supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese communist party, and other Lebanese national parties at the US embassy against US interference in Lebanon's affairs, in Awkar area north-east Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

Protesters backed by Hezbollah, the Lebanese communist party and others during a demonstration against the United States' interference in Lebanon's affairs, near the US embassy in Awkar area, Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

Protesters try to remove barbed wire during a demonstration by supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese communist party, and other Lebanese national parties during a demonstration at the US embassy against US interference in Lebanon's affairs, in Awkar area north-east Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

Protesters carry a picture of Hezbollah commander Imad Moughnyeh during a demonstration by supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese communist party, and other Lebanese national parties at the US embassy against US interference in Lebanon's affairs, in Awkar area northeast Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

Lebanese army soldiers in riot gear arrive to the scene where supporters of Hezbollah and communist groups protest against US interference in Lebanon's affairs, near the American embassy, in Aukar north-east of Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

A Hezbollah supporter holds a placard during a protest against US interference in Lebanon's affairs, near the American embassy, in Aukar north-east of Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

Protesters pull barbed-wire fence off a street during an anti-US demonstration near the American embassy in Awkar, north-east Beirut. AFP

Protesters during an anti-US demonstration near the American embassy in Awkar, north-east of Lebanon's capital Beirut. AFP

A protester chants slogans as he is flanked by Lebanese police during an anti-US demonstration outside the American embassy in Awkar, north-east of the capital Beirut. AFP

Hezbollah supporters and communist groups throw stones at riot police during a protest against US interference in Lebanon's affairs, near the American embassy in Aukar, north-east of Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

Mr Diab formally requested IMF assistance in early May, after announcing that the country would default on its debt for the first time, but the negotiations on a bailout have not moved forward. The IMF has blamed the deadlock on the lack of a unified Lebanese position on the losses of the country’s banking sector.

Starting last summer, a cash crisis has pushed Lebanon, one of the world's most indebted countries, into the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. Half of the Lebanese population is now living in poverty and the value of the local currency has dropped by roughly 80 per cent.

Mr Diab’s statement came after increasing criticism from Mr Rai of the Shiite Muslim party Hezbollah, one of the government’s most influential backers and an ally of President Aoun.

In an interview with Vatican News on Thursday, the Maronite patriarch said Hezbollah “sidelines the state, and declares war and peace wherever it chooses. It helped precipitate war in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

Mr Rai said the United States, European Union and Arab Gulf countries would not help Lebanon because they did not want their financial aid to be used by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

“That’s why we’re paying the price,” he told Vatican News.

Earlier in the week, Mr Rai met Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad-Jalal Firouznia, who said that his country “does not intervene in internal Lebanese affairs”.

On Saturday, the patriarch reiterated calls for Lebanon to remain “neutral”, in what has been widely interpreted by Lebanese media as a criticism of Hezbollah's military interventions in the region.

His calls have been well received by Mr Hariri and the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, but was rejected by Shiite clerics in their sermons on Friday, local media reported.

Mr Diab dismissed claims that his government was controlled by Hezbollah, likening them to “a broken record”.

“The topic of neutrality is political and needs a deep political dialogue between all parties in Lebanon,” he said.

Updated: July 19, 2020 03:24 PM

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