Hezbollah calls for talks on Lebanon state debt

BEIRUT: Hezbollah urged Lebanon’s new government on Tuesday to negotiate with banks to restructure the country’s massive national debt.

The unprecedented call by a Hezbollah member of Parliament suggests that the group, which for the first time controls three ministries, is ready to flex its muscles in the new administration.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government last month categorically ruled out restructuring and pledged to repay debt at existing interest rates. Lebanon has one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, at about 150 percent.

“I call on the government to hold dialogue with the banks, serious and constructive dialogue to reduce the cost of the debt,” Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said.

“Yes we are all in one boat, and the banks are with us in this boat. God forbid if the financial and monetary situation is shaken, what will happen to these banks?”

Fadlallah said his group would wage a “battle” against corruption, and government reforms should “start at the top and not the bottom.”

Hezbollah “is going to engage in the difficult fight against corruption because the people’s money is like the people’s blood,” he said. “Our opponent is the corrupt and we are ready to cooperate with anyone who wants to fight corruption.”

Hariri asked Parliament to support his government’s reform program “because we want a government of deeds, not a government of words.”

He said: “The government wants to address these problems, the most important of which are … financial corruption and tax evasion.

“Bold and specific decisions, legislation and reforms are needed. That may be difficult and painful, but it is necessary to avoid the deterioration of economic, financial and social conditions toward more difficult and painful situations.”

The debate on the government’s policy statement continues on Wednesday, after which it is expected to be approved in a parliamentary vote of confidence.

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