Lebanon's new cabinet agrees policy programme

BEIRUT, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Lebanon's cabinet on Thursday approved a policy programme that aims to tackle one of the worst financial meltdowns in history.

With Lebanon in the throes of economic collapse, three quarters of its population have descended into poverty and the local currency has lost 90% of its value in the past two years.

New Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government, formed on Friday after a year of political deadlock, met at the presidential palace to agree the proposal, which will now be sent to parliament for a vote of confidence.

On Wednesday Reuters saw the draft document, which included a resumption of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and a restructuring of the banking sector.

An official source told Reuters the policy programme was agreed to without any major changes to the draft.

The Lebanese pound significantly strengthened against the dollar in the past week since the cabinet was formed, selling at around 13,800 to the U.S. dollar on Thursday at the street rate after having reached 23,000 to the dollar last month.

The draft programme had said the Mikati government would renew and develop the previous financial recovery plan, which set out a shortfall in the financial system of some $90 billion - a figure endorsed by the IMF.

Lebanon's financial crisis was dubbed by the World Bank one of the worst depressions of modern history.

The scale of the losses was a main sticking point that brought down the plan last year when major political players and bankers disputed their scale and the talks were eventually abandoned last summer.

With the rate of deterioration in living conditions accelerating over the past year and shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicine bringing life to a near standstill, some believe the gravity of the crisis could encourage politicians to pass decisions that were previously resisted.
Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean

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