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Lebanon's Berri threatens to suspend cabinet support over coronavirus expat policy

March 29, 2020 at 1:34 pm

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri threatened on Saturday to suspend his support for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government if it did not act to bring home expatriates stranded abroad during the coronavirus pandemic, reports Reuters.

Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said on Thursday that Lebanese citizens abroad must undergo a test to make sure they are not carrying coronavirus before boarding a flight home.

Berri, head of the Shia Amal Movement, said in a statement:

If the government keeps its position on the issue of the expatriates beyond this coming Tuesday we will suspend our representation in the government.

Berri is one of Lebanon’s most powerful figures and named the finance minister and others in the government which is grappling with a financial crisis and would be paralysed were he to withdraw his backing.

Like all of Lebanon’s main politicians, Berri has a significant support base in the country’s large diaspora.

Leading Christian politician Samir Geagea also attacked the government on the issue on Saturday, expressing concern that countries struggling to cope with outbreaks would prioritise the treatment of their own nationals over expatriates.

Read: Lebanon’s leading coronavirus hospital stages second protest in three weeks

Some Lebanese stuck abroad are struggling to get by, their situation complicated by tight restrictions imposed by Lebanese banks on transfers abroad and cash withdrawals from ATMs overseas. Lebanon has been struggling with a crippling financial crisis since October.

Hitti said this week the ceilings for bank transfers to students stuck abroad would be increased.

“We hope to bring home Lebanese today, before tomorrow, and understand the feelings of families and their children but the PCR tests must be secured because there is great danger in a person infected with corona boarding a plane with those who are not infected,” he wrote on Twitter.

The government would arrange flights to bring home those stuck abroad, he said, urging Lebanese abroad to register with embassies to provide them with help.

As of Friday, the Health Ministry in Beirut has so far confirmed 368 coronavirus cases, including six deaths. Twenty people are known to have recovered from the virus.

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