With no Lebanese political progress, France pushes aid meeting

With no Lebanese political progress, France pushes aid meeting
Lebanon is no closer to forming a credible government to overhaul the bankrupt state. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2020

With no Lebanese political progress, France pushes aid meeting

With no Lebanese political progress, France pushes aid meeting

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron will seek to revive a French initiative on Lebanon when he hosts an international aid conference on Wednesday, but with the country’s fractious political class bickering, hopes of a breakthrough appear slim.
Four months after a massive explosion that killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the capital city, Lebanon is no closer to forming a credible government to overhaul the bankrupt state despite French efforts to convince politicians to introduce partial reforms to confront the emergency.
France, the United States and other donors who repeatedly came to Lebanon’s aid since the 1975-90 civil war are losing patience with its politicians, many of them familiar faces in charge during the country’s descent into economic crisis.
“There will be a lot of tough messages on how serious the crisis is and how Lebanon can’t detract from taking the steps to reform,” said one diplomatic source of the conference. “But it will be light on real commitments.”
Co-hosted with the United Nations, several heads of state and governments will attend the video conference.
Macron, a natural ally given Lebanon is a former French colony, has invested a lot of political capital in trying to break the deadlock, vowing to not give up on the Lebanese.
He is due to visit French troops operating as part of a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon around Dec. 20, diplomats said.
Having seen deadlines to form a government pass and political talks stall, Macron opted to go ahead with an aid conference to take stock of the situation.
However, officials have made it clear that Lebanon will not be bailed out without reforms and that any aid will only be to help recovery. A similar conference in August raised nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) in pledges.
A fund managed by the World Bank will also be created in the coming weeks to channel humanitarian aid through UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
“When there’s no Plan B, France always organizes a conference,” said a Western diplomat, adding that the Lebanon situation was unlikely to evolve before a new US administration was firmly in place.


Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
Updated 26 January 2021

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
  • Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy

BEIRUT: The closure and curfew period in Lebanon has been extended for two more weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prompting people in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon to take to the streets.

The protests were spontaneous, considering that the neighborhoods from which they started are poor, where the residents work for daily wages.

The Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism in the caretaker government Ramzi Musharrafieh said on Tuesday that “230,000 families in Lebanon benefit from aid and have been receiving 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($263) per month since the beginning of the crisis.” He added that “25 percent of the Lebanese people do not need aid.”

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy and the failure to provide people with alternatives.

One of the protesters said: “Contracting COVID-19 and dying of it is easier than having my family and myself starve to death.”

Protesters in Tripoli took to Al-Nour Square on Monday after days of expressing their impatience and protesting outside the houses of the city’s officials.

One of the protesters said: “COVID-19 does not scare us. We cannot tolerate this life of humiliation anymore. The officials in power have starved and robbed us.”

The protesters clashed with the security forces — the army and the Internal Security Forces — hurling stones and water bottles at them. 

Their chants demanded financial compensation for the poorest families, who have not been able to work for two weeks and must wait a further two weeks before they can return to their jobs, resulting in a whole month without any financial income.

The protests spiralled out of control and turned into riots that ended with dozens of arrests. Several army personnel were deployed to control the situation in Al-Nour Square and its vicinity. Riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it brought in six ambulances as 41 people were injured during the protests. The organization transferred 12 people to hospitals, while 29 were treated at the scene.

In support of the Tripoli protests, dozens gathered at the Ring Bridge in central Beirut.

Activists gathered in Sidon’s Elia Square for a vigil, amid security measures. The protesters chanted slogans denouncing the political authority’s arbitrary decisions, which they argue worsened the economic collapse. 

Some protesters said that 60 percent of the poor people in Lebanon are suffering because of these decisions, which were not accompanied with support for people who were laid off due to lockdown measures.

The protests extended to Taalbaya in the Bekaa and the coastal town of Jiyeh. The protesters moved from the poor neighborhoods of Beirut to Corniche el Mazraa and blocked the road, but the riot police reopened it.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News: “Things are heading toward chaos, and the authorities’ decisions are ill-considered. When forcing people to stop working, it is important to give them incentives and compensation. There are 120,000 daily workers impacted by the closure, which has come amid a severe economic crisis.”

He added: “They must exempt the factories that suspended production so that they can survive and not lay off their workers if the closure results in stopping operation. 

“What can the factories that have agreements with clients abroad do to deliver their products? This is the only sector that is bringing Lebanon fresh money and giving people jobs.”

Al-Asmar said that aid provided by the government “covers 47,000 families, and a further 8,000 taxi drivers have been added to them. This is a small percentage compared to the need among the general population.”

He continued: “Employees are now receiving half a salary or a very meager salary if they don’t lose their jobs as employers prefer shutting down their businesses to continuous losses.”

Bechara added: “We are facing a major social crisis. The daily workers are complaining of their inability to put bread on the table, while the state is unable to hold coordination meetings, so how can it provide compensation for those affected?”