UPDATE 1-Lebanon finance minister says no need for more talks over draft budget

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BEIRUT, May 21 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s finance minister said on Tuesday there was no need for more delay or talks over the 2019 draft budget including spending cuts which the cabinet has met daily to finalise – although the foreign minister signalled the debate may continue.

The cabinet agreed on Monday most items in a budget that it says will reduce the deficit to 7.6% of GDP partly by delaying retirement and limiting benefits for state employees.

Last year, the deficit was higher than budgeted at 11.2% of GDP. Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at around 150% of GDP.

“For me, the budget is done … I have presented all the numbers in their final form,” Ali Hassan Khalil tweeted.

But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, however, suggested the debate may go on. “The budget is done when it’s done,” he told reporters.

Government attempts to impose what Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri says would be most austere budget in its history have faced a string of protests and strikes by state workers and retired soldiers.

On Monday, veterans fearing cuts to their pensions and benefits burned tyres outside the parliament building where the cabinet met, and police used water cannon to drive them back. (Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by John Stonestreet and Alison Williams)

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