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article imageLebanon foreign minister resigns in protest at crisis management

By Hashem Osseiran (AFP)     Aug 3, 2020 in World

Lebanon's foreign minister Nassif Hitti resigned Monday in protest at the government's mishandling of a spiralling economic crisis, warning that if there is no will to reform "the ship will sink".

"I have decided to resign today as foreign minister," Hitti said in a statement, charging that the government had shown no will to initiate changes demanded by the International Monetary Fund.

"I participated in the government under the logic of serving one boss, which is Lebanon," the 67-year-old veteran diplomat added. "But I found that in my country there are many bosses and contradictory interests.

"If they don't unite in the interest of the Lebanese people ... then the ship, God forbid, will sink with everyone on board," he added, warning that Lebanon risked becoming a "failed state".

Prime Minister Hassan Diab's office said he had "accepted the resignation on the spot and started making contacts and examining options in order to appoint a new minister".

His successor Charbel Wahbe, a former ambassador and advisor to President Michel Aoun, was named only hours later in an unusually swift move for a country where political appointments usually take months.

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war, with runaway inflation and bank capital controls fuelling poverty, despair and angry street protests.

Lebanon's Nassif Hitti  who resigned as foreign minister on Monday  pictured on July 23 before ...
Lebanon's Nassif Hitti, who resigned as foreign minister on Monday, pictured on July 23 before receiving his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Beirut

Prime Minister Hasan Diab's government, formed in January and billed as an administration of technocrats, has struggled to secure international financial support.

Hitti's resignation comes after France's top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian during a visit last month scolded Lebanon's leadership for failing to take the necessary steps to save the country from collapse.

The outgoing Lebanese foreign minister too urged officials to "reconsider many of their policies and practises so that the nation and its citizens are given priority over all other considerations".

- 'Total confusion' -

Hitti announced his resignation over to the government's mishandling of the country's wors...
Hitti announced his resignation over to the government's mishandling of the country's worst crisis in decades, as premier Hasan Diab's under-fire cabinet struggles to secure international financial support

Lebanon is grappling with a steep decline in the value of the Lebanese pound, with nearly half the population now living below the poverty line and more than a third of the workforce unemployed.

The free-falling economy has sparked mass protests since October against a political class widely accused of being incompetent, corrupt and serving sectarian rather than national interests.

The government, which defaulted on its sovereign debt for the first time in March, has pledged an ambitious raft of reforms and two months ago entered into bailout talks with the IMF.

However, the negotiations have stalled, with two top members of the government's own team resigning, allegedly in frustration at its lack of commitment to reform.

The government says it needs more than $20 billion in external funding, which includes $11 billion pledged by donors at a Paris conference in 2018 that was never delivered due to lack of reforms.

Hitti's resignation shows "that Lebanon is in a state of total confusion," said Hilal Khashan, a professor at the American University of Beirut.

"This government of so-called technocrats has to always refer back to those who put it in office before it can act on any matter," he said, meaning that it "is not autonomous".

Diab's cabinet was formed with the backing of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah and its political allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by Christian President Michel Aoun.

Following Hitti's announcement, Aoun met with Diab to discuss "next steps," according to a tweet by the presidency.

Hitti started his career at the Arab League, where he worked in the office of the secretary-general and later headed the mission in Paris.

A burnt down branch of a Lebanese bank after it was vandalised by protesters in Lebanon's north...
A burnt down branch of a Lebanese bank after it was vandalised by protesters in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli on June 12
Ibrahim CHALHOUB, AFP/File

Lebanese media cited several reasons for his resignation, including reports that he was displeased with how Lebanese officials were encroaching on his prerogatives and mishandling diplomatic ties.

Hitti was reportedly sidelined from a meeting between Le Drian, Diab and several cabinet ministers, and was displeased with how the premier handled the visit.

General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim also visited a number of Gulf countries last month in a diplomatic mission that would usually be the job of the foreign minister.

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