BEIRUT: French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday rebuked Lebanese politicians, stressing the need for reforms and slamming the manner in which matters in the country were being handled, during his visit to Beirut after the devastating blast that ripped through the capital this week.
“We are in need of a new system in Lebanon,” he said, during his speech at the Pine Residence, after meeting with leading Lebanese polticians and civil society members.
The French president urged the Lebanese government to implement reforms, in the electricity sector and fight corruption.
“The money of CEDRE is there and is awaiting reforms to be implemented,” he said, of the $11 billion pledged by international donors at the 2018 CEDRE conference in Paris.
“Lebanon will not be handed blank checks,” he added.
Macron said that if the required reforms are not achieved and authorities do not carry out the required work, then Lebanon will be unable to import foodstuff and will not have enough fuel.
He did not rule out the possibility of imposing sanctions on those who block reform efforts, but said he preferred to engage through dialogue.
Macron mobbed in Beirut. Down with the regime, locals chanted, and called for Revolution while declaiming Lebanon's President Aoun. pic.twitter.com/4ntkZToUFj— Quentin Sommerville (@sommervilletv) August 6, 2020
Macron urged Lebanese leaders to speedily implement reforms, and to take responsibility in the coming crucial days. “If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” he said.
He also announced he would be returning to Lebanon on Sept. 1.
When asked about Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s comments on French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who he said had a “lack of knowledge on the government’s process of reforms,” Macron replied by saying: “It seemed to me that the Lebanese people I met on the streets today did not have enough knowledge as well, about these reforms.”
The French president also announced that an international aid conference for Lebanon would be organizaed in the coming days, to mobilize support for the ailing country, adding that he will work with the World Bank and the European Union to help.
He also called for an international probe to investigate the Beirut Port blast, which claimed 145 lives and left around 5,000 injured, in addition to leaving half of the capital wrecked.
Lebanese politicians, after meeting with Macron, denied that he had proposed a change in the political system.
Head of the Marada Movement Sleiman Frangieh told reporters that Macron spoke about “changing the manner of work, not the system,” and that he did not propose holding early parliamentary elections.
“Macron’s words are clear. If you don’t help yourselves, we won’t help you,” head of the Progressive Socialist Party Jumblatt said after the meeting ended, adding that he agreed with the French president, who he said had no confidence in the current government.
Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea pointed to Macron’s visit as being a huge step in showing commitment toward helping Lebanon, as his country is dealing with its own problems such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Macron had met with the heads of Lebanese political parties and parliamentary blocs at the Pine Residence, the offical residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, during his official visit to Beirut following the devastating blast that rocked the capital Tuesday.
Former Prime Minister and head of the Future Movement Saad Hariri also attended the meeting, in addition to Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Kataeb Party MP Samy Gemayel and head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc MP Mohammad Raad.
Aoun had twice failed to gather all the heads of the country’s leading parties around one table. First when he invited them for economy talks at Baabda Palace to endorse the government’s economic rescue plan in May, and again when he extended an invitation for the Baabda all-party talks in June, with the aim of bolstering civil peace and stability in Lebanon.
After his meeting with Lebanon’s top three leaders at the Baabda Presidential Palace, Macron said that strong political measures are needed to fight corruption and implement reforms in Lebanon.
He said it was important to push forward an IMF program for Lebanon and for a more transparent banking system, during his speech at the Baabda Palace, donning a black tie in mourning, after a meeting with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who were all wearing ties of different shades of blue.
“I noted the anger present in the street of Lebanon,” he said at the palace, after visiting the Beirut Port – the site of the devastating explosion – and Gouraud street, named after French General Henri Gouraud, in Gemmayze, a nearby neighborhood severely impacted by the blast.
Macron’s diplomatic adviser told reporters at Baabda Palace that Macron’s visit would “open a new era with Lebanon.”
The French president earlier in the day told crowds of angry Lebanese who were chanting against the political class that aid would not go to “corrupt hands,” and that it would be unconditional.
He also said he would propose a “new political contract” to Lebanese officials, as he visited anguished Lebanese people and listened to their concerns, before making his official visit to Baabda.
Macron had announced Wednesday, one day after the explosion, that he would visit Beirut, and sent three planes carrying aid and search experts, with another team arriving onboard the presidential plane Thursday.
Tweets “I Love Lebanon” in Arabic
Following his arrival in Paris the French president tweeted in Arabic the same phrase he said during his press conference in Beirut
بحبك يا لبنان !— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 6, 2020
The Daily Star
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