Lebanon’s president urges ‘sacrifice’ as budget cuts debated


FILE PHOTO: Lebanese President Michel Aoun talks on the eve of the country’s 75th independence day at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun urged the Lebanese on Tuesday to end protests and make sacrifices to rescue the country from financial crisis as ministers debate a draft state budget expected to include spending cuts.

Fears that the budget would include wage or pension cuts have sparked protests by public sector workers, pointing to the minefield that Lebanon’s main parties face.

The coalition government is seeking to finalized a budget that Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri says may be the most austere in Lebanon’s history, trying to get spending under control and rein in public debt.

Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world, and long-stalled reforms are seen as more pressing than ever after years of low economic growth.

The government aims to agree the state draft budget by Wednesday night before sending it to parliament, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told Reuters after a cabinet session on Tuesday.

“Today, Lebanon is going through a difficult economic, financial and social crisis … but it is transient,” Aoun told guests at a Ramadan iftar at the presidential palace.

“If we do not all make sacrifices today and waive some of our privileges that we do not have the luxury to preserve, we will lose them all,” he added.

Aoun pledged that suffering would be balanced between the rich and poor, and called on the government to restore the people’s confidence.

“Let us save ourselves, accept the sacrifices that are temporarily required, and stop the sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations and paralysis of public and private work sectors,” Aoun said.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Leslie Adler

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