PARIS: France President Emmanuel Macron, the first world leader to visit Lebanon after the devastating Beirut port blast, will return there next week to press for reform and reconstruction.
Macron will depart Monday for a full day of meetings Tuesday in a bid to boost the reconstruction effort but also looking at political issues as Lebanon searches for a new government, the French presidency said.
Macron visited Beirut on August 6, two days after a massive explosion at the port killed 181 people and wounded thousands.
On August 9, he chaired a video conference that saw world leaders pledge more than 250 million euros ($295 million) for Lebanon.
But he has made it clear that the country needs political reform as well as financial help, a message that has struck a chord with many Lebanese tired of decades of rule by the same political dynasties.
The need for profound change meant “it is the time of responsibility for Lebanon today and its leaders” who required “a new pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks”, Macron said in Beirut on August 6.
Premier Hassan Diab’s cabinet has resigned over the blast, which was blamed on a store of ammonium nitrate left for years in a port warehouse despite warnings.
But in a pattern all-too-familiar to the Lebanese, the country today appears no closer to forming a new government.
France has repeatedly indicated that aid is not a blank cheque and Lebanon must deal with its political and economic problems that led to crisis even before the blast.
“The catastrophe should not be used as a pretext to obscure the reality that existed before of a country that is on the brink of the abyss… and which cannot reform itself,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this week.
“We want the Lebanese authorities to take the necessary leap for a government tasked with starting the essential reforms,” he said, adding it was “not for us to replace the Lebanese government, it is up to the Lebanese to assume their responsibilities.”
Lebanon was under French mandate from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War I until its independence in November 1943.