France to host aid event for Lebanon on anniversary of port disaster

France to host aid event for Lebanon on anniversary of port disaster

France’s foreign ministry said President Emmanuel Macron would hold a new international conference on Lebanon in crisis next month, on the first anniversary of a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut that left some 200 dead and destroyed much of the Lebanese capital.
Friday’s announcement came a day after Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri gave up trying to form a government, dealing yet another blow to a long-standing political impasse. Prime Minister Hassan Diab has held the interim post since his resignation following the port explosion on August 4, 2020, with sectarian politicians unable to agree on a new government since then.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the event will be organized with the help of the United Nations “to meet the needs of the Lebanese whose situation is deteriorating every day”.

Macron had organized a conference on first aid following the port explosion, collecting some 250 million euros in pledges (295 million dollars). But France, the former colonial power, has repeatedly expressed its exasperation at the failure of the Lebanese leaders to end a political and economic crisis that dates back long before the explosion.

The foreign ministry said that Hariri’s failure to form a government “confirms the political impasse that Lebanese leaders have deliberately pursued for months, even as Lebanon sinks into an unprecedented economic and social crisis. “.

He said there was now an “absolute urgency” to remove this “deliberate and unacceptable obstacle” and allow the formation of a government in Lebanon and the swift appointment of a prime minister.

“It is clear that the international community is frustrated with the political class and any help it gives will go directly to the people,” said Zeina Khodr of Al Jazeera, from Beirut.

However, some believe the political vacuum will continue until next year’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for May, Khodr said.

Lebanon is governed by a power-sharing agreement to fully represent its religious communities. The main political and security offices are assigned to different sects. The President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim.

A nine-month political stalemate

Hariri, who was named the next prime minister in October 2020, said on Thursday he was unable to form a government after meeting with President Michael Aoun, an ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group.

Supporters of Hariri and his Future Movement party have blocked roads with burning tires and trash cans in several neighborhoods around Beirut. Several dozen protesters in Beirut Sports City clashed with Lebanese soldiers in riot gear who fired rubber-coated steel bullets.

The main highways south of the capital were also targeted by the demonstrators. Roads in the northern city of Tripoli and the southern city of Sour have also been blocked.

The Lebanese are grappling with an unemployment rate of 35%, which is expected to rise to 40%, while the local currency has lost around 95% of its value in almost two years, evaporating the savings of hundreds of thousands of families. At least half of the population has fallen into poverty, while food inflation exceeds 400%.

Hariri’s decision had an immediate effect on people’s purchasing power as the Lebanese pound hit a new all-time low exceeding 21,000 per US dollar.

“It’s a daily struggle,” Khodr said

“There are social tensions,” she added, noting “that there is a real fear of a security breakdown” in Lebanon, “a country with a turbulent past which has experienced civil war, assassinations and bombardments ”.


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