BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday added Germany, Britain and Spain to the list of countries he has asked for help securing imports of food and raw materials amid an acute dollar shortage.
The Lebanese leader’s appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez follows an earlier plea to Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Turkey, the US, China and Egypt.
Lebanon’s call for help highlights the dire state of its economy, which is plunging deeper into recession with warnings by the World Bank of “increasing economic and financial pressures.”
Hariri has called on “friendly countries” to help “address the liquidity shortage, and provide credits for imports to preserve food security and provide raw materials for production.”
The year-long financial crisis in the country has been made worse by strict bank limits on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad.
Widespread civil unrest and anti-corruption protests directed at the authorities led to the resignation of the government 40 days ago. With no agreement on a replacement PM, the country has been in a state of political deadlock for more than a month.
It is not clear whether parliamentary consultations on Monday will lead to the appointment of a new PM following disagreement between President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, which want a techno-political government, and Hariri, who wants a government of experts.
Activists on Saturday highlighted the country’s growing economic woes by organizing donations in front of the central bank to help the needy.
The economic stagnation can be felt in Beirut markets, with dozens of shops closed and supermarket shelves lying empty as people prepare for the holiday season.
More than 260 food establishments have been forced to close in the past two months, according to a management syndicate, with the number expected to rise to 465 by the end of the month.
“The crisis is not recent,” said Tony Eid, head of the Beirut Traders Association. “Lebanon is witnessing a lack of liquidity among banks and consumers, and recent developments have aggravated the crisis.
“Hundreds of establishments, including clothing stores and restaurants, are closing, while major importers are struggling to import from abroad,” he said.
“Lebanon is sick and is being treated with painkillers with no signs of early recovery.”
Pierre Achkar, head of the Hotel Owners Association, said that the hotels occupancy rate outside Beirut is “zero,” while it ranges between 7 and 12 percent in the capital.
“This is the sector’s worst crisis in its modern history,” he added.
“Beirut was trying to restore its importance before the crisis, but with reduced banking facilities, we cannot expect tourists to come to Lebanon,” he said. “We are working on a campaign to encourage tourism, but we still have no hotel reservations, which means they have booked somewhere else.”
Achkar said that hotels had shut down 80 percent of their operations, closing some floors and restaurants, in a bid to stay afloat.
Meanwhile, Kamil Abu Suleiman, the caretaker government’s labor minister, formed an emergency committee to oversee legal disputes following collective dismissals.
The ministry considered that “any dismissal carried out without its permission is considered an arbitrary dismissal,” he said. “All those who fall victim to such measures and do not receive their legal compensation should consult the ministry.”
ALGIERS: Algeria’s first-ever presidential debate seems to have failed to persuade the country’s pro-democracy protesters to take part in next week’s election.
The five candidates recited their platforms instead of sparring over ideas in the Friday night debate — and they did not even look at each other.
Members of Algeria’s 10-month-old protest movement shrugged off the exercise as a farce. They pushed out long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika earlier this year, and now want a whole new political system. They oppose the election altogether because it is organized by Algeria’s power structure, and they see the candidates as part of a corrupt and out-of-touch elite.
Students plan new protests Tuesday ahead of the first round of the election Thursday.
In the debate, the candidates — including former Prime Ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune — responded to the same questions posed by four journalists.
The questions concerned their political and economic plans, unemployment, Algerians who risk their lives to migrate to Europe, education, health and foreign policy.
“We saw five candidates answering like automatons ... as if it were an oral examination,” said journalism professor Djamel Mouafia.
Other commentators called it a missed opportunity for Algeria’s leadership to show they’re trying to be more transparent and democratic.
Criticism exploded on social media, notably from protesters.
“Before promising to defend freedoms, the candidates should have first denounced the mass arrest of protesters of the people’s movement,” activist Hirak Abdelmadjid Benkaci wrote on his Facebook page.
The candidates had kind words for the peaceful movement, without directly addressing its demands for wholesale change.
Benflis said he chose to seek the presidency “knowing that all conditions are not met.”
“But if I am elected, my top priority would be to engage in a dialogue with the opponents of the presidential election. They have the right to have a point of view contrary to mine, but we must come together to reflect on political reforms,” according to the former prime minister.