BEIRUT (Dispatches) – Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has met President Michel Aoun without announcing progress towards forming a new government, and banking sources say most financial transfers out of the country remained blocked.
Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since Oct. 17 by a wave of protests against the ruling elite that led Hariri to resign as prime minister on Oct 29.
Banks reopened on Friday after a two-week closure but customers have encountered restrictions on transfers abroad and withdrawals of hard currency.
A banking source said that generally all international transfers were still being blocked bar some exceptions such as foreign mortgage payments and tuition fees. A second banking source said restrictions had gotten tighter.
Hariri has been holding closed-door meetings with other factions in the outgoing coalition cabinet over how the next government should be formed, but there have been no signs of movement towards an agreement.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he wanted Hariri to be nominated as prime minister again. Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker a Shia.
Aoun has yet to formally start consultations with lawmakers over nominating the new prime minister. The presidency said Aoun and Hariri discussed contacts aimed at solving "the current government situation”.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, said Lebanese leaders appear to be "on another planet” with no sign of a new government despite an economic crisis, warning of social unrest if basic goods run short.
Geagea said the only way out of the crisis was the formation of a competent government independent of political parties, as demanded by protesters who have been demonstrating against the ruling elite.
Noting there had been no outcome from talks over a new government, Geagea said politicians were acting as if nothing had changed since protests swept the country on Oct. 17.
"Every hour we hear of a crisis at the gates, whether it’s (supply of) petrol, flour, or medicine,” Geagea said in a telephone interview. "Everything is collapsing and the officials are on another planet, taking their time.”
Geagea, who led one of the biggest militias in the 1975-90 civil war, said the financial situation had become "very, very delicate”.
"I am worried that the necessary credit for buying petrol will not be provided, or to buy anything from abroad,” he said.
"This would lead to big unrest in society...Imagine if people tomorrow can no longer find fuel, or they find fuel but at high prices, or ... they don’t find flour (or) they find it find it at high prices,” he said.