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Pope Francis urges Lebanese leaders to shun partisanship

Pope Francis receives Lebanon’s Christian leaders on Thursday at the Altar of Confession in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (AFP)
Pope Francis receives Lebanon’s Christian leaders on Thursday at the Altar of Confession in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (AFP)
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02 Jul 2021 01:07:16 GMT9
02 Jul 2021 01:07:16 GMT9

Najia Houssari

BEIRUT: Pope Francis has called on Lebanon’s leaders to put aside partisan interests and work to restore peace and stability in the crisis-hit country.

The pontiff made the appeal at the end of a day-long summit with Lebanese Christian leaders in the Vatican on Thursday.

Earlier Francis welcomed the Christian patriarchs for a day of prayer amid growing fears over the threat posed by Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse, coupled with an 11-month political deadlock over the formation of a new government.

“I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests,” Francis said.

“Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many. No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” he said during a closing prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Away from the media, the pontiff held three closed sessions with heads of the Lebanese churches to discuss ways out of Lebanon’s “dangerous crisis.”

Lebanese Christians, as well as Muslims, are facing the worst economic collapse in the modern history of the country.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said that he hoped “the Vatican meeting will be crowned with success in inviting all Lebanese to protect their coexistence, and for Lebanon to be blessed with the pope’s visit as promised.”

The pope repeated his wish on Thursday to visit Lebanon.

A survey by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that “more than 30 percent of children in Lebanon went to bed hungry last month” amid worsening poverty in the country.

“Successive crises have put families and children in Lebanon in deplorable conditions,” it claimed.
UNICEF’s Lebanon representative, Yuki Muko, said: “The number of families struggling to survive is increasing.”

Families were forced to cut back on meals, send their children to work, marry off their underage daughters or sell their belongings, she said.

Muko warned: “Lebanon cannot bear seeing children deprived of nutrition, forced to leave their schools, suffering from poor and fragile health, or facing aggression, violence and abuse.”

According to UNICEF’s survey, 77 percent of families “do not have enough food or money for essentials.”

It added: “The figure increases to 99 percent for Syrian families, while 60 percent of families are buying food by leaving bills unpaid or by borrowing money.”

The survey also found that 30 percent of Lebanese children have no access to primary healthcare, while 76 percent of families have been badly hit by the steep increase in the price of medicines.

An uneasy calm prevailed in Tripoli on Thursday after huge protests erupted a day earlier amid claims that a child had died after power to his oxygen supply device was shut down.

Activists on social media circulated a video of young people calling for President Michel Aoun’s resignation, and chanting that they are “fed up with starvation and humiliation.”

Energy and Water Minister Raymond Ghajar’s office said in a statement that Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun had agreed to lend the ministry diesel from army reserves to power electricity generators until credits are opened for diesel ships and their shipments unloaded.

More than 2.5 million liters of diesel will be distributed in Tripoli, the statement said.

Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Grand Mufti of Lebanon, warned protesters against attacking troops or security forces after soldiers were hit by chairs and stones thrown by demonstrators.

The Future Movement, which views Tripoli as its bastion, said that the army needed support to save the city from “chaos and destruction.”

Motorists continued to queue outside gas stations on Thursday as fuel supplies ran low, while van and bus drivers cut off the international highway near Baalbek in protest at the price and scarcity of fuel oil.

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