Beirut Grand Prix hopes fading

LEBANON seems to be having second thoughts about plans to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2003. The project, championed by former Prime Minister Rafic Al-Hariri was to run a race in downtown Beirut as part of a grandiose plan to transform the city into the "financial, commercial and cultural center for the Arab World". The rebuilding of the city center was being carried out by Al-Hariri's construction company Solidere.

At the start of October, however, General Emile Lahoud was elected the new President of the Lebanon, promising to clamp down on corruption and cronyism. At the start of December Lahoud fell out with Al-Hariri and a new Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss was appointed. He named a cabinet consisting not of politicians but of six university professors, four judges, three businessmen and two doctors. He embarked on a widespread reform of the administration.

Despite efforts to reduce public spending, the new government is still running over budget because of the cost of servicing the national debt, the result of Al-Hariri's overspending. This means that taxes will have to be raised and in those circumstances it will be difficult for the government to invest in a Grand Prix without criticism.

Having said that last week the government announced plans to invest $26m in the construction of three stadiums for the Asian Games, which the country is due to host next year.

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