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Lebanon must cooperate with IMF to secure funds: Jumblatt

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon must cooperate with the IMF to secure badly needed international aid, leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt said on Thursday, calling for a “joint programme” with the Fund.

Jumblatt, a major figure in Lebanese politics, also urged close cooperation with Hezbollah to assure the powerful Shi’ite Muslim group that IMF-backed reforms were no threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty.

Jumblatt is the most influential figure yet in Lebanon to call for an IMF programme to deal with the long-brewing crisis that came to a head last year as capital inflows slowed down and protests erupted against the ruling elite.

Speaking to Reuters, Jumblatt said an IMF-backed programme was the only way for Lebanon to secure financial support.

“I just don’t see any other way. Neither the Arabs nor the Americans nor even the French are ready to help us without the coordination of the IMF. This is my impression,” he said.

The Lebanese government has requested IMF technical but not financial support. Jumblatt’s party is not represented in the current government, which took office in January with backing from Hezbollah and its allies.

Hezbollah, a heavily armed group backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is opposed to an IMF programme.

Sheikh Naim Qassem, its deputy leader, last week described the IMF as a tool of U.S. interference.

Hassan Fadallah, a senior Hezbollah member of parliament, told Reuters this week Hezbollah was not against the IMF as an institution but opposed the kind of terms it typically imposes on countries, saying these would cause a “popular revolution”.

Jumblatt said “a joint programme” must be found with the IMF. “They have ideas, we have ideas,” he said.

“This needs also close cooperation and understanding with Hezbollah, that there is no danger to the sovereignty of Lebanon if the IMF deals with problems like power, electricity and other issues,” he said.

(Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)