FORT BREGANCON (Reuters) – World powers have a duty to support the Lebanese people after a massive blast devastated their capital as the country’s future is at stake, French President Emmanuel Macron told an emergency donors conference on Sunday.
Lebanon’s debt-laden economy was already mired in crisis and reeling from the coronavirus pandemic before the port explosion, which killed 158 people. But foreign governments are wary about writing blank cheques to a government perceived by its own people to be deeply corrupt.
In opening remarks to an online donor conference he co-organised, Macron said the international response should be coordinated by the United Nations in Lebanon.
“Our task today is to act swiftly and efficiently, to coordinate our aid on the ground so that this aid goes as quickly as possible to the Lebanese people,” Macron said via video-link from his summer retreat on the French Riviera.
The president said the offer of assistance included support for an impartial, credible and independent inquiry into the Aug. 4 blast, which has prompted some Lebanese to call for a revolt to topple their political leaders.
The explosion gutted entire neighbourhoods, leaving 250,000 people homeless, razing businesses and destroying critical grain supplies.
Rebuilding Beirut will likely run into the billions of dollars. Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25 percent off of the country’s GDP.
Many Lebanese are angry at the government’s response and say the disaster highlighted the negligence of a corrupt political elite. Protesters stormed government ministries in Beirut and trashed the offices of the Association of Lebanese Banks on Saturday.
TRUMP: “EVERYONE WANTS TO HELP”
Macron visited Beirut on Thursday, the first world leader to do so after the explosion, and promised humanitarian aid would come but that profound political reform was needed to resolve the country’s problems and secure longer term support.
“I guarantee you, this (reconstruction) aid will not go to corrupt hands,” Macron told the throngs who greeted him.
There has been an outpouring of sympathy for Lebanon from around the world this week and many countries have sent immediate humanitarian support such as a medical supplies, but there has been an absence of financial aid commitments so far.
Macron said the international community had a duty to help.
“Our role is to be by their sides,” he said. “Lebanon’s future is at stake.”
A Macron aide declined on Saturday to set a target for the conference. Emergency aid was needed for reconstruction, food aid, medical equipment and schools and hospitals, the official said.
Israel and Iran were not taking part in the video-link conference, the Elysee Palace official said.
US President Donald Trump will participate. “Everyone wants to help!” he tweeted.
Reporting by Yiming Woo in Fort Bregancon and Richard Lough and Michel Rose in Paris; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry
Image: FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a news conference, following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, in Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS