Lebanon PM Hariri says backs pensioners, also wants to protect pound

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday he supported state pensioners but also wanted to protect the Lebanese pound, local media reported, reflecting the difficulties of tackling the country’s massive debt burden.

Hariri’s new government has committed itself to launching fast and effective reforms that could be “difficult and painful” to put the public finances on a sustainable path. Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world.

Though the government has yet to finalize the 2019 budget, protesters have taken to the streets for the last two days to warn against cuts to public sector salaries and pensions.

“We are with the pensioners ... but we want to protect the pound and we must be sincere with them that the country could deteriorate,” Hariri said during a parliamentary session, broadcaster LBC reported.

Hariri said that while the government, which was formed at the end of January, had promised to issue a 2019 state budget in one or two months, it was also trying not to harm anyone.

“We are certainly in a difficult time,” he said.

Several hundred people protested in central Beirut on Wednesday against any cuts to public sector salaries in the budget. On Tuesday, retired army officers also blocked several highways in protest against any moves to cut their pensions.

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