Lebanon's parliament passes 2020 budget as protests continue
Lebanon's parliament on Monday passed the 2020 budget, state media said, as leaders struggle to redress a plummeting economy and address anti-establishment protests.
Lebanon has since 17 October been gripped by a unified popular movement that toppled the government and created a three-month political vacuum until a new cabinet was announced last week.
Thousands of soldiers, including special forces, as well as riot policemen were deployed on major roads in the capital and its suburbs as they attacked protesters who were demonstrating against the budget.
Beirut committed in 2018 to slashing public spending as part of reforms to unlock more than $11 billion in desperately needed international aid.
The new budget aims to reduce deficit to around 7 percent of gross domestic product, parliament budget committee chairman Ibrahim Kanaan said.
That would be only a tiny drop from the planned deficit of almost 7.6 percent of GDP for last year, after a shortfall of 11.2 percent in 2018.
The last government had promised a deficit of just 0.6 percent for 2020, but Kanaan said that was now impossible as the unravelling economic crisis had caused projected revenues for the year to decrease.
In recent months, thousands of Lebanese have been laid off or seen their salaries slashed as the value of the Lebanese pound has fallen by more than a third on the parallel exchange market.
Only 70 of the 128 members of parliament attended Monday's vote, just days after Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his new team, the state-run National News Agency said.
The budget was passed with 49 lawmakers in favour, 13 against, and eight abstaining, the agency said.
Diab, who attended the session but whose cabinet still needs to be approved by the legislature, said his team would not hamper the budget prepared by the former government.
Kanaan however said the new cabinet could carry out amendments.