Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Lebanon's grand mufti calls for protesters' demands to be met

The country is in political and economic turmoil after three weeks of nationwide protests

Lebanese students wave the national flag during a demonstration in the capital Beirut on November 9, 2019, as protesters keep up their three-week-long movement against a political class regarded as incompetent and corrupt. / AFP / ANWAR AMRO
Lebanese students wave the national flag during a demonstration in the capital Beirut on November 9, 2019, as protesters keep up their three-week-long movement against a political class regarded as incompetent and corrupt. / AFP / ANWAR AMRO

Lebanon's top cleric for Sunni Muslims has issued a call for the demands of protesters to be met through the creation of a new emergency government.

The grand mufti called for the creation of a government of technical experts that would replace the current government to free the country of divisions over religion and party lines.

The country is in political and economic turmoil after three weeks of nationwide protests that prompted Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign last week.

"The time has come to meet the people's demands and the national free will that transcends sects, political parties, and regions," Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian said in a televised address on the occasion of Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

"The time has come and is opportune, after this national wake-up call, for the reform process to begin and for those in power to form an emergency government made up of competent people, without delay," Derian said.

It is time "to immediately proceed with carrying out the reform package prepared by Prime Minister Hariri to solve the country's problems", he added.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, Lebanon's top Christian religious authority, has also called for a change in government to include qualified technocrats.

Before he stepped down, Mr Hariri agreed a package of reforms with partners in the coalition government aimed at easing an economic crisis that sparked the unprecedented protests against the sectarian ruling elite.

The plans included a 50 per cent 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.

But Lebanese politicians have yet to make progress towards agreeing a new government to replace one that was toppled.

The country's power-sharing system is based on 18 recognised religious sects and dates back to French colonial rule. It allocates posts for each of the country's communities, forming forming the basis of its major political parties and creating a delicate balance between Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and other groups.

The World Bank on Friday urged Lebanon to form a new Cabinet "within a week" to prevent further degradation and loss of confidence in its economy, warning of grave risks to the country's stability amid a worsening fiscal and economic crisis.

Saroj Kumar Jha, the organisation's regional director, told The Associated Press that the World Bank observed "enormous losses" in recent weeks and said a new government was urgently needed to redress the situation.

"We are very concerned that this will impact the Lebanese poor people, middle class" and businesses, he said in an exclusive interview.

Updated: November 10, 2019 10:47 AM

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