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Lebanon's cash for power generation may run out at the end of March, says minister

·2 min read

BEIRUT, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Lebanon's energy ministry cannotpay for fuel to generate electricity beyond March unless morefinancing is approved, the caretaker energy minister said onTuesday.

Lebanon, which is grappling with a deep financial crisistriggered by a mountain of debt, already lacks power generationcapacity, so homes and businesses face power cuts for severalhours each day, forcing many to turn to private generators.

"We are headed towards a difficult situation, if there is nofuel there will be no electricity," Raymond Ghajar told Reuters.

The minister said he had asked the president, the caretakerprime minister and head of parliament to approve an emergencyloan for the state power company worth 1,500 billion Lebanesepounds ($996 million at the official rate) to buy more fuel.

Ghajar said earlier this month that Lebanon usually onlykept enough fuel for a couple of months as it was too costly forthe country to hold strategic reserves for six months.

Lebanon's financial meltdown, the biggest crisis since theend of the 1975-1990 civil war, has fuelled unrest, lockeddepositors out of their accounts and sparked a collapse in thecurrency, which has lost 80% of its value against the dollar.

Although some official transactions are still conducted atthe pre-crisis official Lebanese pound rate of 1,500 to thedollar, the street value of the currency has plummeted to morethan 9,000.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet, who resignedafter the huge Beirut port blast on Aug. 4, are acting in acaretaker role as fractious politicians have failed to agree onthe formation of a new government, leaving Lebanon rudderlesswhile swathes of the nation have been plunged into poverty.

Because it is acting in a caretaker capacity, the cabinetcannot hold sessions to approve a budget.

($1 = 1,505.5000 Lebanese pounds)(Reporting By Laila Bassam; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editingby Edmund Blair)