IMF delegation holds talks on Lebanon's economic crisis

IMF delegation holds talks on Lebanon's economic crisis
FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 file photo, a firefighter looks before entering a bank that was set on fire by anti-government protesters, as a riot policeman passes by, during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. Fitch Ratings said Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, that Lebanon's financial position points to a likely restructuring of the country's massive debt and financial sector as the Arab nation passes though its worst financial and economic crisis in decades. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — A delegation from the International Monetary Fund was in Lebanon on Thursday to assess what is needed to save the Mideast country’s crumbling economy.

The IMF team first held talks in the morning with Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who after the meeting headed to the presidential palace for a Cabinet session. The IMF delegation stayed on at the government headquarters for talks with Diab’s advisers and left afterward without speaking to journalists.

The meetings come amid concerns that Lebanon might default for the first time on paying back due Eurobonds.

Earlier this week, IMF Spokesman Gerry Rice said that the team will listen to Lebanese officials’ views on how they plan to face the country’s economic difficulties, take stock of recent macroeconomic developments and provide broad technical advice on policies to deal with the macroeconomic challenges facing the economy.

“Lebanon has not requested financial assistance from the IMF,” Rice said.

Lebanese Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said in comments released by his office that the IMF delegation will discuss what advice it can give regarding a rescue plan that officials are preparing for the country.

Lebanon has been suffering from slow growth, high unemployment and widespread corruption that have triggering nationwide protests against the political elite since mid-October.

The Arab country is passing through its worst financial and economic crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The local currency has lost nearly 60% of its value on the black market. Lebanon also has a massive debt, standing at $87 billion — 150% more than the country’s GDP.

The chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Salim Sfeir, met Diab on Wednesday to discuss Eurobonds that are due in 2020 and are worth $2.5 billion.

The first to mature are Eurobonds worth $1.2 billion that mature on March 9. Lebanese officials have been discussing on whether to pay on time — as they have always done in the past — or default.

Also Wednesday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted by a member of his parliamentary bloc as saying that “restructuring the debt is the best solution.”