France threatens more sanctions against Lebanon’s politicians
BEIRUT – France’s top diplomat wielded the threat of more sanctions in Beirut Friday to prevent what he described as a “collective suicide” organised by members of Lebanon’s ruling political class.
Lebanon’s leaders had promised reform in the aftermath of a deadly explosion at Beirut port last year but, nine months on, they have yet to form a government.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has spearheaded international efforts to assist Lebanon’s moribund economy, said there was no sign of a breakthrough.
Tweeting ahead of his arrival in Beirut, Jean-Yves Le Drian said French travel restrictions on Lebanese officials suspected of corruption or hindering the formation of the Cabinet were “just the start.”
“It is indeed urgent to find a way out of the political deadlock,” he later told reporters just before wrapping up his two-day visit to Beirut.
“To this day, my observation is that the political players have not lived up to their responsibilities and have still not seriously started working on the country’s recovery.”
Le Drian held talks on Thursday with President Michel Aoun, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.
“If they do not act now in a responsible surge of effort, they will face the consequences of this failure,” he said.
Le Drian, who had last year already compared Lebanon to “the Titanic minus the orchestra,” accused those responsible for the deadlock of leading the country to its death.
“I am here precisely to prevent this kind of collective suicide organised by some,” he said.
France announced late last month it had started imposing entry restrictions on certain figures for their role in the political crisis and in corruption.
Le Drian refused to provide names but warned that the sanctions could be made tougher and extended to other politicians.
“It is up to the Lebanese officials to decide whether they want to break out of the deadlock they have organised,” he said.
Le Drian’s official meetings on Thursday were not followed by joint news conferences. His appointment with Hariri was short and kept under wraps until the last minute.
The French minister also held a meeting with representatives of opposition parties which was welcomed by their leaders as a sign that the international community was increasingly open to political alternatives.
Corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class has driven the tiny country into the ground and pushed it to the verge of bankruptcy.
Lebanon is experiencing the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history.
The national currency has lost 85% of its value against the dollar in recent months while banks have imposed informal controls on transfers and withdrawals.
The economic crisis was made worse by a massive explosion at Beirut’s port last summer, which destroyed the facility and surrounding neighbourhoods.
The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down in the wake of the explosion, and former Premier Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a new one.
But Hariri has not been able to form a cabinet amid deep disagreements between him and Aoun, who has no legal way to fire him. The deadlock is accelerating the country’s meltdown.