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Lebanon can get IMF aid if Beirut makes reforms : Austrian FM

Austria’s foreign minister said Wednesday that the European Union wants to help Lebanon escape its economic meltdown, but only if the country’s leaders clean up Beirut’s affairs.

Alexander Schallenberg told reporters after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut that Lebanon should reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund, move forward with the investigation into the August 2020 port blast and restructure the hard-hit banking sector.

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Lebanon’s economic crisis, which started in 2019, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the small country’s political class. Bickering between rival groups has so far prevented economic reforms demanded by the international community in order to release billions of dollars of investments.

“Frankly we are very concerned about what is going on in the country,” Schallenberg said. “Our message is, help us to help you.”

“Austria will continue to stand on the side of the Lebanese people but what we want to see is action on the side of Lebanon,” he said.

Lebanon’s economic crisis has been described by the World Bank as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs since October 2019 and the Lebanese pound lost more than 90% of its value. That leaves nearly 80% of the population of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees, in poverty.

If the government decides instead to first give notice, Barns said it could give Djokovic up to nine days to respond.

“That might be a way of giving Djokovic a chance in the tournament and then kicking him out at the end of that,” Barns said.

Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said there’s “a lot of fudges” in the law and the immigration department would be taking its time to make sure any visa cancellation was “appeal-proof.”

“It’s not an easy task because if they cancel his visa and then Djokovic wins (an appeal) and he misses the opportunity to compete, he could make a claim against the department for the prize money and all his legal fees,” Jeans said.


This story has been updated to correct quoted portions of Djokovic’s statement. It said continuing misinformation, not ongoing misinformation; obliged, not obligated; my team, not the team.

Amid the crisis, Lebanon’s government has not met since Oct. 12. The powerful Hezbollah and its allied Amal group of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri have demanded that the judge leading the investigation into the port blast be removed. The Aug. 4, 2020, explosion in the center Beirut killed more than 200 people.

“The solutions are in the hand of the leaders of this county,” Schallenberg said, adding, “they’re the only ones who can get this country and the people out of this.”

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib said the government is working on reforms, including in the corruption-riddled electricity sector. Bouhabib added that he hopes that Beirut will reach a deal with the IMF by the end of February.

Schallenberg said that there has to be a deal between Lebanon and the IMF, “in order for us as a European Union to give economic assistance.”

The Austrian foreign minister said his country will continue to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with the eventual goal of returning them to their country.

Schallenberg is scheduled to visit Austrian peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel.

A 58-story luxury apartment building in San Francisco continues to sink and is tilting about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) per year, the engineer responsible for fixing the troubled building said.

At the current rate without a fix, the Millennium Tower in just a few years could reach a 40-inch (1-meter) tilt, which would be the point at which the elevators and plumbing may no longer operate, said Ron Hamburger, the engineer.

Hamburger told the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in an update hearing last week that the building remains safe and that installing 18 steel piles to bedrock is the best way to stop the tilting and possibly reverse some of it, KNTV-TV reported.

“The building does continue to settle at a rate of about one-half inch per year and to tilt at a rate of about three inches per year,” he told supervisors last week. “It is doing this whether we are conducting work at the site or not.”

Millennium Tower opened to fanfare in 2009 and all 419 apartments quickly sold out. High-profile residents have included former San Francisco 49er Joe Montana, late venture capitalist Tom Perkins and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence.

But by 2016, the building had sunk 16 inches (40 centimeters) into the soft soil and landfill of San Francisco’s dense financial district. It was also leaning, creating a 2-inch (5-cm) tilt at the base and a 6-inch (15-cm) lean at the top. Residents sued the developer and designers.

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