UPDATE 1-IMF confirms staff visit to Lebanon this week

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WASHINGTON, Feb 18 (Reuters) – A team of IMF experts will visit Lebanon from Feb. 20-23 to meet with authorities on economic challenges facing the country, and provide broad technical advice, International Monetary Fund spokesman Gerry Rice said on Tuesday.

IMF staff will listen to Lebanese authorities about “how they plan to face Lebanon’s economic difficulties, … take stock of recent macroeconomic developments, and provide broad technical advice on policies to deal with the macroeconomic challenges facing the economy, he said.

Rice said Lebanon had not requested financial assistance from the IMF. He gave no further details about the trip.

Reuters first reported the visit on Monday.

The government of heavily indebted Lebanon is grappling with an economic crisis that has fueled violent protests, and must urgently decide on how to deal with fast-approaching debt payments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9.

The financial crisis, worse than any Lebanon endured in its 1975-90 civil war, came to a head last year as slowing capital inflows led to a liquidity crunch and demonstrations erupted against the ruling elite.

Banks are imposing controls on access to cash and blocking transfers abroad, the Lebanese pound has slumped, prices are rising, and firms are shedding jobs or slashing wages.

Rice last week said the IMF was ready to help Lebanese authorities as they worked on a needed package of economic and structural reforms, but any decision on debt restructuring would be up to Lebanese authorities and their creditors.

Lebanon’s public debt is equivalent to around 150% of its gross domestic product. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal Editing by Leslie Adler)

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