Vote of Confidence in New Govt. Set for Feb. 11-12

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President Michel Aoun, center, speaks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Zeina Akr, center, right as Prime Minister Hassan Diab, center left, looks on during the cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. A new Cabinet has been announced last night in crisis-hit Lebanon, breaking a months-long impasse amid mass protests against the country's ruling elite. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday scheduled a parliamentary session for February 11-12 to debate Cabinet’s policy statement and vote on confidence in the new government.

The new Cabinet approved the policy statement earlier on Thursday during a meeting at the presidential palace.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his new government face the twin challenge of angry street protests and a collapsing economy, with Lebanon burdened with a debt of nearly 90 billion dollars, or more than 150 percent of GDP.

Diab, a 61-year-old computer engineering professor, formed a Cabinet on January 21 after the previous government stepped down in October during unprecedented demonstrations.

The premier on Thursday described the policy statement as “a working program laying out our aspirations.”

“It is the product of facts and studies” and was not influenced by individual interests, he added.

The policy statement maintains the so-called army-people-resistance equation, according to the information minister.

The phrasing confers legitimacy to Hizbullah as an armed force, and has sparked controversy in the past after being included in previous Cabinet statements.

Hizbullah is the only force not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, and is credited with expelling Israeli forces from southern Lebanon.

It is listed as a “terrorist” group by the United States and the European Union, but it is also a prominent player in politics with seats in parliament.

The new statement comes as Lebanon grapples with a financial crisis, a liquidity crunch, and a fall in value of the Lebanese pound by a fourth on the parallel market.

International donors have repeatedly urged Lebanon to implement reforms before they release billions of dollars in frozen aid.

U.N. envoy to Lebanon Jan Kubis on Wednesday reiterated that the government must first take measures to redress the economy before any outside help.

“The conditions are reforms, reforms, reforms,” he said.

I hope “the new government will come with a clear action plan… with deadlines,” he said.

“And then, we will try to help, but it must start with the work of the government,” Kubis said.

On Friday, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni is to meet a delegation from the World Bank, according to a statement from his office.

Lebanon has been rocked by protests since October 17 demanding a complete overhaul of a political class which activists charge is inept, corrupt and motivated by personal gain.

The demonstrations have petered out in size in recent weeks.

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