France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon

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President Michel Aoun (C) meets with Patrick Durel (C-L), advisor to the French president for North Africa and the Middle East, in Baabda on the outskirts of Beirut. (AFP)
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Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri (R) meets with Patrick Durel (R), an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, in the capital Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 13 November 2020

France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon

  • Durel said: “France will keep providing urgent assistance to Lebanon in several fields, especially education”
  • Macron’s rescue initiative has not led to the formation of a government yet, three months after its launch

BEIRUT: France urged Lebanon to “speed up the formation of an efficient government, accepted by all political parties” to enact badly needed reform and provide proper leadership amid tensions and a severe economic crisis.
The adviser to the French president for the affairs of the Middle East and North Africa, Patrick Durel, held a series of meetings on Thursday and Friday, with officials and the heads of the eight parliamentary blocs, including the representative of Hezbollah, Mohammed Raad, and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil.
French President Emmanuel Macron had previously met with these figures at the Pine Palace during his two visits to Beirut in the wake of the explosion at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4 and again on Sept. 1.
During his meeting with President Michel Aoun on Thursday, Durel said: “France will keep providing urgent assistance to Lebanon in several fields, especially education.”
He said: “The international community’s fulfilment of its obligations toward Lebanon is linked to the implementation of reforms.”
Macron’s rescue initiative for Lebanon has not led to the formation of a government yet, three months after its launch. Then prime minister-designate, Mustafa Adib, apologized on Sept. 26 for his inability to form a government. His successor, Saad Hariri, is still facing formation obstacles since his designation on Oct. 22.
Pessimism over the possibility of resolving the stalemate is rising amid ongoing disagreement over the government’s form, the number of portfolios and the names of the ministers, in light of the FPM’s inflexibility, Hezbollah and the Amal movement’s position on the finance portfolio, and the objection of Hezbollah’s allies for not having the party represented in the next government.
US sanctions against Bassil, on the grounds of corruption charges, have increased his supporters’ intransigence.
Aoun’s office said he assured the French envoy that “Lebanon adheres to the French initiative for the benefit of Lebanon,” but stressed the need for “a broad national consensus to form a government that can achieve the required tasks, in cooperation with parliament, to pass necessary reform laws.”
A spokesperson continued that Aoun complained to Durel: “The financial forensic auditing process in the accounts of the Lebanese Central Bank, which is considered one of the foundations of these reforms, is facing many obstacles” adding that “a three-months extension has been made for Alvarez & Marsal to secure what facilitates its mission.”
The president added that “the US sanctions targeting Lebanese politicians (has) made matters more complicated,” suggesting “conducting a broad national consultation at this delicate stage so that the authorship comes in line with the French initiative.”
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri described the meeting with the French envoy as “good.”
Berri reiterated to Macron’s adviser his adherence to “the French initiative and the necessity to implement reforms, especially in the field of energy and fighting corruption.” He added that “creating a government whose ministers are specialists and have the parliament’s confidence is the only means for Lebanon’s salvation.”
Hariri has so far refused to go into any details related to the formation of the government and the obstacles he is facing. His media adviser, Hussein Al-Wajh, told Arab News: “Any statement or analysis regarding the fate of the government issued by any party is a personal opinion and Hariri has nothing to do with it.”
The French envoy’s visit was accompanied by questions about whether he wanted to convey a final warning to the politicians who backed away from their commitments to Macron and inform them of the possibility of postponing the international conference in support of Lebanon, which France promised to organize by the end of this month.
The immediate outcome of Durel’s visit did not show signs of a rapid breakthrough, to stir the stagnant waters of the French initiative.
Durel reiterated: “The French initiative is the only valid option on the table to save Lebanon, otherwise the cost will be much worse than what is happening now, if the time factor is ignored.”
According to what a participant in the French envoy’s meetings with party leaders told Arab News, Durel stressed “the French side’s adherence to a government of specialists and not partisans, that has acquired broad internal consensus.”

Turkish opposition politician investigated for criticizing Qatar military deal

Ali Mahir Basarir. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 37 min 48 sec ago

Turkish opposition politician investigated for criticizing Qatar military deal

  • MP accused of ‘humiliating’ Turkish government and army

ISTANBUL: A Turkish opposition politician who is being investigated for criticizing a military deal with Qatar has defended his remarks.

MP Ali Mahir Basarir, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the Turkish army had been sold to the Qataris under a series of deals that were signed between the two governments on Nov. 26.

“We have reached a point where the state’s army is sold to Qatar in a first for the country’s history,” he said during a TV interview.

He criticized a contract that was signed last year with military vehicle producer BMC, a Turkish-Qatari joint venture, for the mass manufacture of the Altay tank, Turkey’s first new generation main battle tank.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on Nov. 29 launched a probe into the opposition politician for “humiliating the Turkish government and the army.”

But Basarir denied his remarks were critical of the army. “I stand behind my words,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Selling a military factory of our army to another country is treachery. It is betrayal.”

There have been strongly worded statements from government officials, and even accusations of him of being “a lover” of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“This deputy is not worthy of representing our sacred nation,” Mahir Unal, deputy leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tweeted. “He should quickly apologize.”

AKP spokesman Omer Celik blamed Basarir for “using poisonous language devoid of morals about the heroic Turkish army.”

The Turkish Defense Ministry is expected to file a complaint about the MP for “insulting the army and Turkish soldiers,” while Turkey’s media watchdog will investigate the broadcast.

Turkey’s top tank factory was transferred to a Turkish-Qatari private venture in 2019 to produce armored vehicles.

The Turkish partner of BMC, Ethem Sancak, is known to be a close confidant of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The plant was leased by BMC, which will operate the national tank factory for 25 years, but the lease price has never been made public.

The deal was criticized by opposition figures at the time, and they emphasized the strategic importance of such a factory for Turkey’s defense capabilities.

Qatar also signed a billion-dollar contract last year to buy about 100 tanks from Turkey.

But Germany is reluctant to share its engine expertise technology - which is critical for making these tanks - with Turkey due to political concerns.

“This government likes Qataris more than Turkish people,” CHP lawmaker Alpay Antmen tweeted. “It is totally ‘emotional.’”