October 23, 2019 / 11:25 AM / 22 days ago

Top Lebanese Christian cleric wants technocrats in government

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s top Christian religious authority called for a change in government to include qualified technocrats and urged President Michel Aoun to begin talks with other politicians to address the demands of protesters angered by an economic crisis.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said reform measures announced by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Monday were a good “first step” but they required replacing ministers in the current government with technocrats.

He did not call for the resignation of Hariri’s national unity government as protesters have demanded.

“The list of reforms is a positive first step but it requires amending the ministers and renewing the administrative team with national, qualified figures,” he said in a televised speech.

Hariri’s government announced an emergency reform package on Monday, to try to defuse the anger of protesters demanding the government resigns and also to steer the heavily indebted state away from a looming financial crisis.

Lebanon remained paralysed for a seventh day by protests on Wednesday, with roads blocked across the country and banks and schools still closed.

Lebanese army troops scuffled with demonstrators as they struggled to unblock main roads.

Hundreds of thousands of people have flooded the streets for nearly a week, furious at a political class they accuse of pushing the economy to the point of collapse.

Hariri met Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh on Wednesday following his return from Washington, where the governor was attended IMF and World Bank meetings.

Reporting by Ellen Francis, Eric Knect and Tom Perry; Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood

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