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Lebanon could sink like Titanic, parliament speaker says

by Reuters
Monday, 29 March 2021 14:36 GMT

* Lebanon parliament approves $200 mln for electricity generation

* One of four main power plants shut downs as fuel runs out

* Loan enough for electricity generation for around two months (Adds second law being passed, MP's comments)

By Maha El Dahan and Issam Abdallah

BEIRUT, March 29 (Reuters) - Lebanon will sink like the Titanic if it fails to form a government, the speaker of parliament said on Monday as he opened a session to approve emergency funds to literally keep the lights on for two more months.

"The whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic," Nabih Berri said. "It's time we all woke up because in the end, if the ship sinks, there'll be no one left."

Lebanon is in the throes of a financial collapse rooted in decades of graft and a crushing mountain of debt, in the country's worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun have been at loggerheads for months over the makeup of a new cabinet to enact reforms to unlock foreign aid.

Parliament approved a loan of $200 million to pay for fuel to generate electricity, after a warning by the energy ministry that cash had run out for power plants beyond the end of the month.

"This should be enough for electricity for around two months or two-and-a-half," Cesar Abi Khalil, a member of parliament and former energy minister, told Reuters.

Parliament also passed a law which backers said could make it easier to recover stolen public funds, although some lawmakers publicly doubted it would yield much.

"Effectively, all these texts cannot be implemented," said lawmaker Jamil al-Sayyed, who is allied to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement. "What's happening is a charade ... We're lying to you," he said in televised comments.

Lebanon already lacks electricity generation capacity and homes and businesses have to cope with power cuts for several hours a day. The Zahrani power plant, one of Lebanon's four main electricity producers, has already shut down this week for lack of fuel.

"Any shutdown in one of these big plants affects power generation negatively," Abi Khalil said. "This means Lebanese make up for it with generators that run on diesel that's 30% more expensive than the fuel that's bought by the electricity company." (Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Issam Abdallah and Laila Bassam; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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