A precious $11-billion aid package at risk

BYBLOS, Lebanon: Blank copies of Lebanon’s leading newspaper An-Nahar are displayed on a newspaper stand outside a bookstore in the coastal Lebanese port city of Byblos, north of Beirut yesterday. —AFP

BEIRUT: Lebanon's oldest newspaper An-Nahar went out to newsstands completely blank yesterday to protest a political deadlock and economic woes in the tiny Mediterranean country. Despite more than five months of wrangling, premier-designate Saad Hariri has been unable to form a new government, putting a precious $11-billion aid package at risk. An-Nahar, which was founded in 1933, published eight blank pages in print and linkless white boxes on its main page online, posting headlines but no news items. "People are tired and An-Nahar is tired of writing up your pretexts and repeated empty promises," editor-in-chief Nayla al-Tueni said at a press conference in Beirut. "God knows how long we will wait to see" a decision on a cabinet line-up, she said.

A new government would be able to sign off on billions of dollars in aid pledged at a conference in April, notably to help boost the country's ailing infrastructure. But political parties in the small multi-confessional country have been locked in dispute over the makeup of a future cabinet. "The situation is no longer bearable," Tueni said, adding, however, that the newspaper was not taking sides in the ongoing wrangling. The blank issue aimed to express "our deep moral sense of responsibility as a press institution over the disastrous state of the country", she said.

Economic growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of a series of political crises, compounded by the war since 2011 in neighboring Syria. An-Nahar has faced financial difficulties in recent years, while other landmark newspapers have shuttered. Successive governments in Lebanon have been unable to address a waste management crisis, or improve an electricity grid that causes daily power cuts. In recent days, Lebanese have complained of wastewater arriving in their taps at home, with activists sharing images on social media of vegetables soaking in murky water. The tiny country, which weathered its own civil war from 1975 to 1990, has a multi-confessional system of government that seeks to represent all religious sects._ AFP