Lebanon's Geagea sees politicians "on another planet", fears unrest

By Tom Perry

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Lebanese leaders appear to be "on another planet" with no sign of a new government despite an economic crisis, one of the country's main Christian politicians said on Friday, warning of social unrest if basic goods run short.

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, said the only way out of the crisis was the formation of a competent government independent of political parties, as demanded by protesters who have been demonstrating against the ruling elite.

Noting there had been no outcome from talks over a new government, Geagea said politicians were acting as if nothing had changed since protests swept the country on Oct. 17.

"Every hour we hear of a crisis at the gates, whether it's (supply of) petrol, flour, or medicine," Geagea said in a telephone interview. "Everything is collapsing and the officials are on another planet, taking their time."

Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since by the protests that led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister.

Since he quit on Oct. 29, Hariri has been holding closed-door political meetings but with no sign of progress towards agreement on the next cabinet.

The economy is choked by one of the world's largest debt burdens. Growth, low for years, is now around zero. Capital inflows vital to financing budget and trade deficits have been slowing for years, making foreign currency harder to obtain.

Since they reopened a week ago after a two-week closure, banks have been imposing tight restrictions on financial transfers out of Lebanon and withdrawals from dollar accounts. Importers' credit lines have been frozen.


"VERY, VERY DELICATE"

The Lebanese Forces is one of the main Christian parties in Lebanon's sectarian politics and an opponent of the Iran-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah. It has 15 seats in parliament and its four ministers quit the government on Oct. 20.

Geagea, who led one of the biggest militias in the 1975-90 civil war, said the financial situation had become "very, very delicate".

"I am worried that the necessary credit for buying petrol will not be provided, or to buy anything from abroad," he said.

"This would lead to big unrest in society...Imagine if people tomorrow can no longer find fuel, or they find fuel but at high prices, or ... they don't find flour (or) they find it find it at high prices," he said.

"I don't know exactly what it would lead to. But in these cases, nobody can imagine anymore where things will go. We are in a very, very delicate situation," he said.

Geagea accused Hezbollah of trying to form a government that resembled the outgoing one, including by insisting on the inclusion of its Christian ally Gebran Bassil, a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and the foreign minister.

Were Hariri able to form an independent government, the Lebanese Forces would support him as its prime minister, Geagea said, adding that the formation of a neutral cabinet of specialists was the only way out of the crisis.

But he noted that there had been no progress yet, adding: "It appears to me, that those concerned in the matter are behaving as if nothing has happened in Lebanon". (Editing by William Maclean)