Demonstrators carry Lebanese flags and a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, as they head towards the central bank building during an anti-government protest
Demonstrators carry Lebanese flags and a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, as they head towards the central bank building during an anti-government protest
Photo: Reuters
 Demonstrators carry Lebanese flags and a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, as they head towards the central bank building during an anti-government protest

'Help us help you', France tells crisis-hit Lebanon

French foreign minister says Paris stands ready to mobilize support but Beirut must take first action on reform as it wrestles with financial meltdown rooted in decades of state corruption and waste

Reuters |
Published: 07.23.20 , 22:11
France told Lebanon on Thursday it had no option other than an IMF deal to escape a financial crisis worsening by the day, and Beirut must enact reforms urgently if it is to win foreign aid.
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  • Lebanon desperately needs such aid as it wrestles with a financial meltdown rooted in decades of state corruption and waste. The crisis marks the biggest threat to its stability since a 1975-90 civil war.
     Demonstrators carry Lebanese flags and a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, as they head towards the central bank building during an anti-government protest Demonstrators carry Lebanese flags and a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, as they head towards the central bank building during an anti-government protest
    Demonstrators carry Lebanese flags and a banner depicting Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, as they head towards the central bank building during an anti-government protest
    (Photo: Reuters)
    "'Help us help you' is the message of my visit," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after meeting Lebanese leaders in Beirut. He said that Paris stood ready to mobilize support but that there must be action on reform.
    "Lebanon is in a very worrying situation. The economic and financial crisis is raging," he said. "It has concrete, dramatic consequences for the Lebanese who are getting poorer day by day."
    Nassif Hitti Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants (R) during a joint press conference with Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Europe and Foreign AffairsNassif Hitti Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants (R) during a joint press conference with Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs
    Nassif Hitti Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants (R) during a joint press conference with Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs
    (Photo: EPA)
    A collapsing currency has sent inflation soaring, raising fears of mass hunger, with savers frozen out of their accounts in a paralyzed banking system.
    Former colonial ruler France has led efforts to get Lebanon to implement reform, hosting a donor meeting in Paris in 2018 when Beirut won more than $11 billion in pledges for infrastructure investment. The money hinged on reforms that were promised but not delivered.
    An anti-government protester in downtown Beirut, LebanonAn anti-government protester in downtown Beirut, Lebanon
    An anti-government protester in downtown Beirut, Lebanon
    (Photo: AP)
    Lebanon entered negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May after defaulting on its hefty foreign currency debt. But the talks have been put on hold in the absence of reforms and as differences arose between the government, the banking sector and politicians over the scale of the country's vast financial losses.
    "Be under no illusions. There are no alternatives other than an IMF program to allow Lebanon to come out of the crisis," Le Drian said on Thursday. "The need for change is known by all."
    Donors also want to see progress in fixing the state-owned electricity grid, which loses up to $2 billion a year in public funds while failing to meet the country's needs.
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    Le Drian said steps on that front were "not encouraging" so far. "France will always stand by Lebanon...to help you in these difficult times. But for this to work, the Lebanese authorities must do their part."
    He added it was essential for Lebanon to respect a policy of staying out of conflicts in the region, where the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah movement is allied with Iran in its power struggle with mainly Sunni Gulf Arab states.
    "Only reform can stop the economic decline. There is no alternative," British ambassador Chris Rampling also said in a tweet. "And only disassociation can keep Lebanon safe from regional turmoil."
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