UN backs Lebanon in economic crisis, call for global help

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The UN Security Council on Monday supported Lebanon's efforts to end the country's economic crisis and face other challenges, including the impact of COVID-19, and asked the international community to help.

The most powerful UN body took note in a statement after a closed meeting of "the urgent need for the Lebanese authorities to respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people by implementing significant economic reforms" and facing security, humanitarian and COVID-19 challenges.

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Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, failed to pay its sovereign debt for the first time in March. Protests against the government that broke out in October have eased during a national blockade since mid-March to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. These restrictions are beginning to ease.

Last Thursday, the prime minister said he would pursue a rescue program for the International Monetary Fund, but protesters mobilized again on Friday, criticizing the government's handling of the unprecedented crisis that saw the local currency fall, people's economies devastated and prices and inflation rise.

The Security Council was meeting to discuss the implementation of a 2004 resolution that called on the Lebanese government to extend its authority across the country and for all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to dissolve.

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In a report to the council released on Monday on the implementation of the resolution, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also addressed Lebanon's current economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As the dire economic and financial situation in Lebanon is now exacerbated by the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the country's economy, it is even more urgent for the country's leaders to develop and implement the necessary reforms," ​​he said.

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The UN chief stressed that "measures to prevent, limit and mitigate the impact of the pandemic must be taken in parallel with providing financial and food support to the growing number of the most vulnerable groups of the population facing extreme poverty".

Lebanon was involved in civil war between 1975 and 1990, and a UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL has been in Lebanon since 1978, after Israel invaded parts of southern Lebanon. Since then, there have been major wars in 1982 and 2006 between militants from Israel and Hezbollah, which killed more than 1,000 people on both sides.

The Security Council statement "acknowledged the additional challenges posed by the global pandemic of COVID, also in the Lebanese economy, and praised the preventive measures adopted by UNIFIL in this regard".

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The Guterres report said that the Lebanese government continued efforts to extend state authority across the country, but Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias continue to operate outside government control, in violation of the 2004 resolution and the Taif Agreements. that ended the country's civil war.

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"Various groups across the political spectrum in Lebanon have weapons beyond the control of the government," said the UN chief, and "Hezbollah is the country's most heavily armed militia."

Guterres said he continues to urge the Lebanese government and armed forces to "take all necessary measures to prohibit Hezbollah and other armed groups from acquiring weapons and developing paramilitary capabilities outside state authority". He also called on countries with times close to Hezbollah "to encourage the group's transformation into an exclusively civilian political party, as well as its disarmament."

The secretary-general warned that Iran's continued support of Hezbollah in Syria, where it supports the government of President Bashar Assad, "carries the risk of involving Lebanon in regional conflicts and undermining the stability of Lebanon and the region".

Guterres and the Security Council expressed concern about the recent incidents on the UN Blue Line that separate Lebanon and Israel.

Germany's deputy ambassador to the UN, Jürgen Schulz, told the council that "Lebanon is facing an unprecedented challenge" to its political leadership and the country's stability, according to the text of its statement at the closed meeting.

He said it was "very good" that the government adopted a comprehensive economic reform plan and that its response to the COVID-19 crisis "has been a major achievement in the past two months".

"At the same time, many challenges remain and we remain very concerned about the real risk that the country will move towards economic and financial collapse and suffer a prolonged political crisis," said Schulz.

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