Hezbollah: Lebanon’s next government must heed protesters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Shi’ite group Hezbollah said on Friday a new Lebanese government must listen to the demands that fueled protests against the country’s rulers and led Saad al-Hariri to quit as prime minister.

Hariri’s resignation has left Lebanon without a government as it faces the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. Hezbollah, a heavily armed group backed by Iran, had opposed the resignation of the coalition of which it was part.

“A new government must be formed as soon as possible … and the new government must listen to the demands of the people who took to the streets,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.

“There must be serious work because time is tight and so is people’s patience,” he said, adding that the government’s goal must be to restore confidence.

The unprecedented, nationwide protests that erupted on Oct. 17 tipped Lebanon into political turmoil at a time when it was already grappling with dire economic conditions and strains in its financial system.

Lebanese banks, which had been closed since Oct. 18, reopened on Friday, with queues building and customers encountering new curbs on transfers abroad and withdrawals from U.S. dollar accounts.

Though no formal controls were imposed, banks told customers they could only transfer funds abroad in particular circumstances such repaying loans, education, health, family support or commercial commitments.

An hour after doors opened, dozens people of people were waiting at some banks in Beirut and other cities, Reuters witnesses said. At others, fewer were waiting.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon praised the public for acting “responsibly”. The Lebanese pound strengthened against the dollar on the parallel market that has emerged in recent months, three dealers said.

The central bank had promised not to impose capital controls when banks re-opened, measures that could hamper the currency inflows and investment that Lebanon badly needs.

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Asked about steps being taken by banks, banking association chief Salim Sfeir said: “I would not call it restrictions but rather efforts by the banks to accommodate all customers, given the pressure resulting from closing for two weeks.”

“We stand ready to adjust any measure taken, once the situation in the country is back to normal”, he told Reuters.

Reporting by Eric Knect, Imad Creidi, Ellen Francis, Samia Nakhoul, Issam Abdallah; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Christian Schmollinger, Larry King and Giles Elgood

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