Beirut: President Emmanuel Macron said France wouldn’t abandon the Lebanese people after what he branded a “collective betrayal” by the country’s politicians in failing to form a new government to carry out reforms.
Macron said Lebanon had lost a month during which it could have received international aid as the country faces a deep economic crisis and struggles to recover from a devastating explosion at its main port in Beirut in August.
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“I’m ashamed of your leaders,” he said in response to a question from a journalist at a news conference in Paris on Sunday, calling them subject to “corruption and terror.” Later, he added: “The failure is theirs, the responsibility is theirs.”
Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, Mustafa Adib, stepped down on Saturday after failing to form a new government by the September 15 deadline set by Paris. President Michel Aoun warned last week that Lebanon was “going to hell” if a government wasn’t formed swiftly.
Lebanon’s political leaders chose to “betray” the commitment made on September 1 to France and the international community, instead putting partisan and individual interests first to the detriment of the country, Macron said.
“They thus chose to deliver Lebanon into the hands of foreign powers, to condemn it to chaos instead of enabling it to benefit from the international aid that the Lebanese population needs,” Macron said.
The failure was due in part to attempts by some to make appointments conditional on religious faith, which hadn’t been agreed by all. Others chose to try to impose the choices of their party and of Iran-backed Hezbollah, he said.
“Hezbollah cannot be an army at war with Israel, a militia let loose on civilians in Syria and a respectable party in Lebanon,” Macron said, adding that it had shown it doesn’t respect all Lebanese people.
Macron said the road map agreed on September 1 remained on the table as it was the only viable option, calling on Lebanon’s leaders to seize this last chance.
He said he would honour a pledge to hold a further international conference before the end of October to mobilize and expand aid for Beirut and the Lebanese people. He also told the news conference that he would review the situation in the country in four to six months.
Asked about imposing sanctions, he reaffirmed that nothing was ruled out, but said they would serve no purpose at this stage.
A colonial power until 1943, France has maintained a close relationship with Lebanon, hosting a number of international conferences to drum up financial support. Macron said this month that about $11 billion in loans and grants pledged to the country at the Paris-hosted CEDRE conference in 2018 won’t be released unless it has enacted reforms.