Lebanon PM asks govt, banks for plan to restore confidence

Diab’s government is facing mammoth task to help near-bankrupt Lebanon overcome one of its financial crises in decades.

BEIRUT - Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab asked the government and the country's banks on Wednesday for a plan to restore confidence as the country faces its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

At a meeting of ministers and banking officials, Diab said the impression he got from the central bank and banking association was Lebanon still had "ways out" of the crisis.

Diab's cabinet took office last week with the backing of Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies, after Saad al-Hariri quit as premier in October amid protests against the ruling elite.

Diab, a 61-year-old academic, was thrown in at the deep end for his first experience on the political big stage and admitted that the situation he inherited was desperate.

The new government faces a liquidity crunch that has fuelled inflation, a weakening Lebanese pound and battered confidence in banks that have imposed tight controls.

It must also decide its approach to looming sovereign bond repayments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March that the finance minister has described as "a fireball".

A statement circulated at Wednesday's meeting said Diab called for a plan "with the aim of restoring the minimum degree of confidence, which is the cornerstone for tackling the crisis."

Anger at what protesters see as a kleptocratic oligarchy was initially fuelled by youth unemployment that stands at more than 30 percent and the abysmal delivery of public services such as water and electricity.

The long-brewing discontent was compounded by fears of a total economic collapse in recent weeks, with a liquidity crunch pushing banks to impose crippling capital controls.

Lebanon has one of the world's highest debt-to-GDP ratios and economists have said it is hard to see how the near-bankrupt country could repay its creditors.