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Lebanon's International Backers Lend Support to New Premier

FILE - Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 21, 2020.
FILE - Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 21, 2020.

Lebanon's international backers said Wednesday they supported its new Cabinet, while urging it to swiftly tackle the country's snowballing crises amid ongoing anti-government protests.

The group urged Prime Minister's government to commit to major reforms that would "stop and reverse the deepening crises" afflicting the country economically and politically. Those issuing the statement included international partners like France, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

Lebanon's economic crash has sparked months of mass protests against its government and ruling elite.

The international group's support for the new premier was not a given. Diab, a former professor at the American University of Beirut, was picked by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its allies after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks after the nationwide protests erupted.

Lebanon is at the center of a foreign power play between supporters and detractors of Iran. Hezbollah, a major ally of Tehran, has come under intensifying U.S. sanctions as Washington seeks to put pressure on Iran and its regional allies.

Thousands of protesters clashed with security forces outside the Parliament on Tuesday while lawmakers voted on the new government. Nearly 400 people were injured in the melee.

The new Cabinet secured 63 votes out of the 84 lawmakers who attended Tuesday's session. Over forty lawmakers skipped the vote while the protests hurled stones at security forces outside the fortified barriers surrounding the legislative chamber.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Diab said he fully realized the massive task ahead but was confident it was possible to rescue Lebanon's economy from complete collapse — and that his government would get to work immediately.

Diab vowed to fight corruption, while ushering in judicial, financial and administrative reforms, but offered few specifics in his 16-page plan.

Amid a spiraling financial crisis, Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls on withdrawals of U.S. dollars and halted transfers of foreign currency abroad.

Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150% of GDP with no economic growth, a liquidity crunch and high unemployment.

International donors had pledged some $11 billion in grants and loans for Lebanon in 2018, calling for major reforms to unleash the money. In recent weeks, friendly nations have said they will not bail Lebanon out without those major policy and regulatory changes.

On Wednesday, the international group, which also includes the European Union, Britain, China, Germany and Italy, said it supports Lebanon's efforts to restore economic stability, credibility of the financial sector and key sector reforms. It also announced its support for peaceful protests.

Diab urged the international community, and local opponents, to give his government a chance.