Lebanese cabinet meets after political crisis ends
BEIRUT - Lebanon's cabinet met on Saturday for the first time since late June, a day after steps were taken to resolve a political dispute that had paralysed a government seeking to reduce massive public debt.
Information Minister Jamil al-Jarrah, speaking on television after the meeting, said an investigation into a shooting incident which sparked the crisis would continue and findings would be reported to the cabinet to decide how to proceed.
The June 30 shooting in the Chouf mountains caused a standoff between Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan's political parties, after two aides of government minister Saleh al-Gharib, an ally of Arslan, were killed.
Gharib declared it an assassination attempt, for which his allies held Jumblatt's party responsible.
Jumblatt's party says it was an exchange of fire initiated by Gharib's entourage in which two Jumblatt supporters were also wounded.
The dispute, pitting Lebanon's two main Druze leaders against each other and embroiling other parties in the coalition government, focused on which court should hear the case.
But with both sides represented in Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's cabinet, the government was unable to convene while the dispute was ongoing, complicating efforts to enact reforms that are urgently needed to steer the country away from financial crisis.
Lebanon's dollar bonds rose on Friday as it became clear that the Druze leaders would hold a reconciliation meeting and that a cabinet session might become possible.
With one of the world's heaviest public debt burdens, equivalent to 150% of GDP, the government has made reducing the fiscal deficit and attracting foreign investment a priority since it was appointed in January.
A 2019 budget was approved, months late, in July, with big planned cuts to spending. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said the government is committed to quickly agreeing a 2020 budget that includes further fiscal reforms.
Political and sectarian disputes have derailed economic policy-making for long stretches of the past decade, a period also affected by the war in neighbouring Syria. Lebanon's growth has slowed and its public debt has grown.