National crisis puts Lebanon's survival at stake, Hezbollah leader says

Hassan Nasrallah said supporting the Hezbollah-backed government was a national duty

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Lebanon may not survive if its new government fails, the leader of Hezbollah warned on Sunday, urging the country's divided politicians not to obstruct the Cabinet that was backed by the Iran-aligned militant group.

Hassan Nasrallah also said there was no point in politicians trading blame over the causes of the crisis, after former prime minister Saad Hariri on Friday accused his rivals of pushing the country to near-collapse.

Banks are curtailing access to deposits, the Lebanese pound has slumped, inflation has soared and companies are shedding jobs and slashing wages in a financial crisis.

Mr Hariri resigned last year amid mass demonstrations against the ruling class.

Lebanon’s public debt was $89.5 billion (Dh328bn) as of November, most of it held by the Lebanese banks.

The country is due to pay $1.2bn in March when a Eurobond matures, followed by another $700 million in April and $600m in June.

Hezbollah is one of the main backers of Prime Minister Hassan Diab's Cabinet, which was formed last month after the failure to establish a new national unity Cabinet led by Mr Hariri.

The new government received a vote of confidence last week while protests continued to rage on the streets of Beirut.

Mr Nasrallah said supporting the government was a "national duty".

"This is not a party matter," he said. "If this government fails, it is not known whether a country will remain for someone to ride in on a white horse and form a new government."

Analysts say Hezbollah's role in forming the Cabinet could make it harder for Mr Diab to secure badly needed financial support from western and Arabian Gulf states that are alarmed by the Tehran-backed group's influence.

Mr Nasrallah said that while Hezbollah backed the Cabinet, it was not "Hezbollah's government", and that opponents who described it as such were making it more difficult to combat the crisis and damaging Lebanon's international ties.

Lebanon last week asked the International Monetary Fund for technical assistance on dealing with the economic crisis.

Speaking in Dubai, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said Lebanon needed urgent and deep structural reforms.

"We are sending a small team to Lebanon," Ms Georgieva said. "We’ll do our best to give a diagnostics recommendation on measures to take but the taking is in the hands of Lebanon."