Lebanon parliament passes 2020 budget amid protests

Beirut (AFP) –


Lebanon's parliament on Monday passed the 2020 budget, state media said, as the debt-saddled country struggles to redress a plummeting economy and address anti-establishment protests.

Dozens of protesters tried to prevent lawmakers from attending the session and some threw stones at police who retaliated with tear gas to disperse them and carried out arrests, an AFP journalist said.

Lebanon has since October 17 been gripped by a cross-sectarian street movement that toppled the government and created a three-month political vacuum until a new cabinet was announced last week.

The Mediterranean country committed in 2018 to slashing public spending as part of reforms to unlock more than $11 billion in desperately needed international aid.

The new budget aims to reduce deficit to around 7 percent of gross domestic product, parliament budget committee chairman Ibrahim Kanaan said.

That would be only a tiny drop from the planned deficit of almost 7.6 percent of GDP for last year, after a shortfall of 11.2 percent in 2018.

The last government had promised a deficit of just 0.6 percent for 2020, but Kanaan said that was now impossible as the unravelling economic crisis had caused projected revenues for the year to decrease.

In recent months, thousands of Lebanese have been laid off or seen their salaries slashed as the value of the Lebanese pound has fallen by more than a third on the parallel exchange market.

Only 70 of the 128 members of parliament attended Monday's vote, just days after Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his new team, the state-run National News Agency said.

The budget was passed with 49 lawmakers in favour, 13 against, and eight abstaining, the agency said.

Diab, who attended the session but whose cabinet still needs to be approved by the legislature, said his team would not hamper the budget prepared by the former government.

Kanaan however said the new cabinet could carry out amendments.