BEIRUT - Lebanon's parliament began a session on Monday to discuss the new cabinet's policy programme and hold a vote of confidence, but proceedings were delayed by almost an hour due to a power cut resulting from the country's desperate fuel shortages.
The country is stuck in a deep depression, with worsening shortages of fuel leading to few or any hours of state-backed power a day and most Lebanese relying on private generators for electricity.
The session had been scheduled to start at 11 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) but the lights went out in the building now housing the parliament. When it began, Prime Minister Najib Mikati read out the cabinet's draft policy programme.
"From the heart of the suffering of Beirut ... our cabinet was born to light a candle in this hopeless darkness," Mikati told parliament.
Parliament's influential speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shi'ite Amal movement, interrupted Mikati and asked him to make his comments short to save on power.
"Let's not bother you and read it all out, let's save time because of the electricity issue," he said.
Mikati's government was cobbled together after a year of political deadlock that has compounded Lebanon's economic malaise.
The new government has promised action to address the country's crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund and a start to reforms.
Its draft policy programme said it would renew and develop a previous financial recovery plan, which set out a shortfall in the financial system of some $90 billion - a figure endorsed by the IMF.
But Mikati faces a tricky path to solid economic ground as the plan risks hitting resistance from officials and bankers though the gravity of the crisis could encourage many to make decisions they had previously resisted.
Lebanon's financial system unravelled in late 2019. The root cause was decades of profligate spending by the state and the unsustainable way in which it was financed.
Wealthy Gulf monarchies, which had traditionally chanelled funds into Lebanon, have so far been reluctant to come to its rescue, alarmed by the growing influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
Mikati has pledged to bring Lebanon back into the Arab world but he faces a delicate balancing act, with Hezbollah last week successfully bringing in a first shipment of Iranian fuel oil to help alleviate the power shortages.
On Friday, Mikati said the Iranian fuel was a breach of his country's sovereignty.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam, Editing by Gareth Jones, Timothy Heritage and Hugh Lawson) ((Maha.Dahan@thomsonreuters.com; + 9712 4082101; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))