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Facing economic crisis, Lebanon's new government meets for first time

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Image: Anti-government protesters clash with the Lebanese army in the coast
Anti-government protesters clash with the Lebanese army in the coastal city of Tripoli north of Beirut on Tuesday as they protest the newly-announced government formed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.   -  
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Ibrahim Chalhoub
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Lebanon's new government met for the first time Wednesday as President Michel Aoun said its main task was to win back international confidence that could unlock the funding the crisis-hit country badly needs.Formed by the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah and its allies without the participation of major Lebanese political parties that enjoy Western backing, it also faces one of the biggest financial crises in the heavily indebted country's history.A liquidity crunch that has hit the Lebanese pound, fueled inflation and driven banks to impose capital controls.

Anti-government protesters clash with the Lebanese army in the coastal city of Tripoli north of Beirut on Tuesday as they protest the newly-announced government formed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Anti-government protesters clash with the Lebanese army in the coastal city of Tripoli north of Beirut on Tuesday as they protest the newly-announced government formed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.Ibrahim Chalhoub

"Your mission is delicate," Aoun's office cited him as telling the cabinet. "It is necessary to work to tackle the economic situation, restore the confidence of the international community in Lebanese institutions and reassure the Lebanese about their future," Aoun said.Lebanon, burdened with a public debt equivalent to about 150 percent of GDP, won pledges exceeding $11 billion at an international conference in April 2018 conditional on reforms that it has so far failed to implement.U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the government's formation and said he would work with Diab to support the reform agenda, Guterres' spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday.Diab, whose cabinet took final shape as long-running protests against the country's political elite resumed on Tuesday night, will have his work cut out to reassure Sunni Gulf states that have joined the United States in designating Shi'ite Hezbollah a terrorist group.The premier said on Tuesday his first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly Gulf states that have in the past provided financial aid to Lebanon.Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, deeply concerned for years over Hezbollah's rising influence in Beirut, have appeared to hesitate to extend financial support in this latest crisis.

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Lebanon had been without effective government since Saad al-Hariri, the country's main Sunni leader and a traditional ally of the West and Gulf states, quit as premier in October following widespread protests against politicians who have led Lebanon into its worst crisis since the 1975-90 war.At the cabinet meeting, Diab called for support for the army and the security forces, who have clashed with protesters over the past week, with hundreds injured.Diab was nominated by Hezbollah and allies last month.Hariri and his Future Movement have stayed out of the government, along with the staunchly anti-Hezbollah Christian Lebanese Forces party and the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt."The problem resides in the fact that the majority of them (new ministers) gravitate in the camp of the same political forces who have led the country to the current situation," Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, said in remarks published by L'Orient-Le Jour daily on Wednesday.Lebanon ushered in a new government that will need to walk a political tightrope, as President Michel Aoun said its main task was to win back international confidence that could unlock the funding the crisis-hit country badly needs.Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government met for the first time on Wednesday.

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