Beirut, police clashes and demonstrators. Card Raï: judge the (new) government by its actions

Parliament meets to approve the state budget.  Lebanese forces announce boycott, but deputies reach quorum.  From an initial 0.6%, deficit now at 7%.  Maronite Patriarch: the executive must "regain lost trust" and "turn the page" by archiving a "black chapter" in Lebanese history.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - There were fresh clashes this morning outside Parliament between anti-government protesters and security forces, while inside the deputies had gathered for the approval of the state budget, one of the reasons that fueled the protests of these  months.  The demonstrators threw stones and metal barriers at police in riot gear, who blocked access to the area in a context of growing tension.

The Lebanese forces have announced the boycott of the parliamentary session dedicated to the budget.  The leaders of the bloc contest the absence of a  confidence vote for the new government, announced last week but yet to receive the go-ahead from the Assembly.

However, the latest information shows that teh deputies have reached the necessary quorum and Parliament has been able to start the two-day work, which should then end with the final vote on the state budget.  A fundamental step for a nation marked by a very serious financial crisis, exacerbated by widespread corruption within the ruling class.

The Maronite patriarch Card. Beshara Raï again spooke out in his Sunday  homily  about the critical situation stating that the executive must face a "tough test" while the "peaceful revolt" of young people continues on the streets.  The new government, said the cardinal, "has undertaken a difficult task" having to respond to the requests of a people "who have lost confidence" in their leadership.

"Nonetheless - continues Card Raï - the government must be judged and held responsible for the consequences of its actions [...] This does not mean the end of the protests" but rather "take a position of control and demand".  The cardinal's words come in a context of renewed violence for a people exasperated by months of serious political and economic crisis, which has resulted in hundreds of layoffs, wage cuts and the banking system collapsing.

The government must "regain lost trust" of a population that wants to "turn the page" and archive a "black" chapter of "our national life and write a new story".

Exacerbated by economic hardships, anti-government protests escalated in mid-December, when it became clear that, largely because of cross-vetoes, no one was going to be able to form a government to replace the one that resigned on 29 October. On several occasions, top Church leaders have reminded politicians about their responsibility and the urgency to stir the ship of state in a country that is dangerously close to a cliff.

The birth of a new executive did not appease the widespread feeling of discontent among the population, which continues to accuse its leaders of "ignoring" their demands, including "fight against corruption and an independent government".  MPs must vote on the budget, the first draft of which dates back to the past few months and the previous government led by then-Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.  Since then, changes have been made, however deemed insufficient by protesters.  House president Ibrahim Kanaan spoke of a budget with a deficit set at 7%, far higher than the 0.6% expected at first.