Hezbollah 'willing to co-operate' with Lebanon’s judiciary over corruption

Hassan Nasrallah urged the judiciary to act on corruption in a speech on Monday

Hassan Nasrallah made a televised address. EPA
Hassan Nasrallah made a televised address. EPA

Hezbollah will co-operate with Lebanon’s judiciary in any corruption probe, the group’s leader said on Monday.

In a televised address on the country’s 13th day without a functioning government and amid massive street protests, Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah would respect the judiciary's corruption investigations into its members.

“If there is any case related to a Hezbollah official, I urge you to start with us and I guarantee Hezbollah’s respect,” Mr Nasrallah said.

He urged the judiciary, which has been a target of criticism in the month-long street protests, to rebel against powerful political forces.

“We need a judiciary that is brave, strong and does not bow to political pressure,” Mr Nasrallah said.

The unrest across Lebanon began with a build-up of anger at rising living costs and political leaders accused of steering the country toward economic collapse.

The unrelenting fervour of the protesters led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in a bid to bring calm. He remains in a caretaker capacity, but the lack of progress on forming a new government has only fanned the flames of protest.

From the capital Beirut to Sidon and Tyre in the south up to Tripoli in the north, protesters waved Lebanese flags, demanding that the formation of a new government be accelerated.

They insist any incoming Cabinet be comprised of technocrats and be independent of established political parties.

"We will not leave the streets before our demands are totally satisfied," shouted one young protester on Sunday. "We are more determined than ever."

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri suggested on Monday that a new Cabinet should include representatives from the protest movement.

“The popular movement must be represented in the Cabinet,” Mr Berri told local news service Al Joumhouria. "The true movement that has demands that we all believe in, not the movement that insults people."

Mr Nasrallah said Hezbollah would “leave the door open” on talks to form a new government.

But Mr Berri again delayed a session of the Lebanese Parliament scheduled for Tuesday, saying there were safety concerns as protesters blocked roads around the Beirut Parliament building.

That caused further delays to a process he said needed to be “quick, quick, quick” to deal with the economic woes the country faced.

“Everyone must be convinced that an economic crisis is hanging above our heads,” Mr Berri said, after postponing the session for a week.

A Lebanese protester sits on a tree holding a placard during an anti-government protest in front of the Lebanese Central Bank at Hamra Street in Beirut. EPA
A Lebanese protester sits on a tree holding a placard during an anti-government protest in front of the Lebanese Central Bank at Hamra Street in Beirut. EPA

Meanwhile, the Governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank sought to calm nerves amid the worsening economic and financial crisis, pledging to work on protecting bank deposits and the stability of the currency.

Riad Salameh said the bank would keep defending the currency peg to the US dollar, which has been in place since 1997.

Mr Salameh said there would not be any capital controls or a “haircut” on customer’s bank deposits, in which the state takes a cut of their money to cover its debts.

As he spoke, dozens of protesters outside the bank on Beirut’s commercial Hamra Street blocked the road, chanting “Down with the rule of the banks”, as riot police looked on.

Lebanon’s financial troubles have worsened since mass protests erupted nationwide last month, paralysing the country and keeping banks closed for two weeks.

Depositors have rushed to withdraw their money since the banks reopened last week, with the country’s lenders imposing varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank, fuelling the turmoil.

“The Central Bank aims to protect the stability of the pound and we have the capability to do that,” Mr Salameh said, although acknowledging the difference in price in currency exchange shops, which he said was due to market demand.

He described it as a “phenomenon” that would end when demand diminished.

Mr Salameh said the central bank had reserves of $38 billion - including 30 billion “that we can use immediately".

Students who joined the protest in dramatic fashion last week, carrying school bags and banging pots and pans, remained out of education on Monday.

The caretaker Education Minister said schools and universities would close again on Tuesday "to preserve the safety of students" amid continuing protests, and out of respect for their right to demonstrate.

Updated: November 12, 2019 03:47 AM


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