PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macro met the new Lebanese Prime Minister on Friday, wishing him success and promising that France would continue to support the country in crisis.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is on his first trip abroad, a few days after the confirmation of his government by parliament. The confirmation ended a 13-month standoff that arose as Lebanon grapples with an economic collapse and rising poverty.
“You have an immense and historic responsibility,” Macron told Mikati during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace. “We will do everything to help you succeed. “
Throughout the Lebanese crisis, France took the initiative of the international community by helping the small country in the Middle East, a former French protectorate. Paris has hosted conferences on aid and pushed for reform, and last year Macron presented Lebanese politicians with a roadmap for policy change and reforms. At the time, his hands-on approach failed to push the bickering Lebanese politicians into action.
Macron said on Friday that Lebanon was facing a “humanitarian emergency” and pledged that France would contribute to efforts to “mobilize the international community to meet the most urgent needs”.
“We have the opportunity to make concrete progress on the reform path,” Macron said, adding that international support could provide more help once the energy sector and public finance reforms are launched.
“The road is arduous and the task is difficult,” Macron said. ” We are here. France will remain alongside the Lebanese people. “
Mikati’s government is expected to undertake much-needed reforms while dealing with growing public anger and tensions resulting from the worsening difficulties. He said he would count on France’s support during talks with the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a stimulus package, a priority for the new government.
Mikati had said he would lift the subsidies by the end of September when Lebanese foreign reserves were dangerously low and the central bank said it could no longer support its $ 6 billion subsidy program.
Billionaire businessman and one of the richest men in Lebanon, this is Mikati’s third round as prime minister. He is widely seen as part of the entrenched political elite and few believe he can chart a course for reform with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties the public blames for corruption and mismanagement. resources of Lebanon.
In Beirut, dozens of Lebanese depositors demonstrated on Friday in front of a few private banks in the city center, demanding access to their hard currency deposits which have been de facto blocked since the financial and economic crisis that occurred at the end of 2019.
Protesters threw eggs and tomatoes at the bank buildings, prompting angry bank workers to yell at them. Lebanese security forces pushed back the crowd.
Private banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawals, transfers and effectively preventing access to foreign currency accounts. The national currency has since been in free fall, losing more than 90% of its value.
Associated Press reporter Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.