BEIRUT: Lebanon’s feuding politicians have three months to begin sweeping reforms or face punitive sanctions and a block on funds for an international bailout, Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday.
The French president also threatened legal action against Lebanon’s corrupt ruling elite for presiding over the collapse of the economy, a plunging currency and a mountain of debt.
Macron said: “Today everything is blocked and Lebanon can no longer finance itself.” The central bank and banking system were in crisis and an audit was needed, he said. “We need to know the truth of the numbers, so that judicial actions can then be taken.”
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He said it was essential to “quickly form the government, repair the electricity sector, fight corruption, reform governmental contracting, and reform the banking sector.”
The president, on a visit to Lebanon to mark the centenary of its founding, said he wanted “credible commitments” and a follow-up mechanism from the country’s leaders, including a paliamentary election in six to 12 months.
“It’s the last chance for this system,” he said. “I am putting the only thing I have on the table — my political capital.” He offered to host an international conference on Lebanon in Paris, and said he would return in December.
This was Macron’s second visit to Lebanon since a devastating chemical explosion in Beirut port on Aug. 4 killed more than 190 people, injured thousands and reduced swaths of the capital to debris, rubble and shattered glass. The president toured the port area on Tuesday.
Macron marked Lebanon’s centenary by traveling to a forest outside Beirut to plant a cedar tree, the national emblem. As he placed the sapling in the ground, jets from the Patrouille de France aerobatics team flew overhead, leaving smoke trails of red, white and green, the national colors.
Macron began his trip on Monday evening with a private dinner hosted by the legendary Lebanese diva Fairuz, 85. Outside her home, protesters waved banners reading: “No cabinet by, or with, the murderers.”
The president also met Saad Hariri, the former prime minister, and Mustapha Adib, the latest incumbent. Adib was named on Monday to succeed Hassan Diab, whose government resigned this month in the face of a wave of public anger after the port explosions.
A source told Arab News the meeting between Macron and Adib focused on “speeding the process of forming the new government, which should be a small one that includes independent specialists with wide expertise in their fields of specialization, should not be a traditional one, and should work fast as the situation is unbearable.”
There were already signs that the process would not be as smooth or as speedy as Adib’s appointment, with reports of a dispute over who should be finance minister.