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Lebanon's Caretaker PM Warns of Chaos  03/07 09:07


   BEIRUT (AP) -- Lebanon's caretaker prime minister warned Saturday that the 
country was quickly headed toward chaos and appealed to politicians to put 
aside differences in order form a new government that can attract desperately 
needed foreign assistance.

   Hassan Diab, who resigned almost seven months ago as prime minister, 
threatened to suspend his caretaker duties if that would increase pressure for 
a new Cabinet to be formed.

   He spoke in a terse address to the nation as the currency continued its 
rapid collapse against the dollar, trading at nearly 11,000 Lebanese pounds on 
the black market for the first time in its history. Angry protesters have 
blocked streets and highways across the country with burning tires for days, as 
the pound slid to record new lows.

   The crash in the local currency has resulted in a sharp increase in prices 
as well as delays in the arrival of fuel shipments, leading to more extended 
power cuts around the country, in some areas reaching more than 12 hours a day. 
The crisis has driven nearly half the population of the small country of 6 
million into poverty, wiped out savings and slashed consumer purchasing power.

   Small groups of protesters blocked roads again in several areas Friday, 
setting fire to tires and pieces of furniture.

   "The dollar is 10,500 (pounds) and everyone has four or five children on 
their neck, including their parents. They (corrupt politicians) need to feed 
us," cried one protester.

   "They vaccinated themselves from corona but they opened the country so that 
people could die," he added, referring to a group of lawmakers who inoculated 
themselves in parliament last month without prior approval. a move that led the 
World Bank to consider suspending its financing of vaccines in Lebanon.

   Another protester who identified himself only by his first name, Ali, said 
he was frustrated that other Lebanese were still sitting at home.

   "Where are the Lebanese people? The dollar is now 10,500 (pounds) and it 
will reach to 15, or 20 (thousand). Why are we in homes? We have to go down!"

   Diab, who resigned in the wake of the massive August 4 explosion at Beirut 
port, suggested he might stop working in his role.

   "If it helps to form a government, I am prepared to resort to that option 
even though it goes against my principles," he said.

   In October, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was named to form a new 
Cabinet but five months later, disagreements between him and President Michel 
Aoun on the shape of the Cabinet has stood in the way of a new government's 

   Lebanon has also been in desperate need of foreign currency, but 
international donors have said they will only help the country financially if 
major reforms are implemented to fight widespread corruption, which has brought 
the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

   "What are you waiting for, more collapse? More suffering? Chaos?" Diab said, 
chiding senior politicians without naming them for grandstanding on the shape 
and size of the government while the country slides further into the abyss.

   "What will having one minister more or less (in the cabinet) do if the 
entire country collapses," he asked.

   "Lebanon is in grave danger and the Lebanese are paying the price."

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