Macron pledges support, calls for ‘political change’ in Beirut
BEIRUT – French President Emmanuel Macron called for urgent support for Lebanon where he arrived on Thursday, two days after a devastating blast ripped through Beirut, killing 145 people and generating a seismic shock that was felt across the region.
Dozens are still missing after Tuesday’s blast at the port that injured 5,000 people and left up to a quarter of a million without homes fit to live in, hammering a nation already reeling from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases.
A security source said the death toll had reached 145, and officials said the figure was likely to rise.
Macron, making the first visit by a foreign leader since the explosion, promised to help organise international aid but said Lebanon’s government must implement economic reforms and crack down on corruption.
“If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” Macron said after being met at the airport by Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
“What is also needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era.”
Wearing a black tie in mourning, Macron toured the blast site and Beirut’s shattered streets where angry crowds demanded an end to a “regime” of Lebanese politicians they blame for corruption and dragging Lebanon into disaster.
“I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain. This is why I’m here,” Macron told one group, promising to deliver “home truths” to Lebanon’s leaders.
The government’s failure to tackle a runaway budget, mounting debt and endemic corruption has prompted Western donors to demand reform.
Gulf Arab states who once helped Lebanon have baulked at bailing out a nation they say is increasingly influenced by their rival Iran and its local ally Hezbollah.
Residents of Beirut vented their fury at Lebanon’s leaders during Macron’s visit, blaming them for the deadly explosion that ravaged the capital.
Shouting, “Revolution!” they crowded around the French president who promised to press the politicians for reform.
One man on the street told Macron, “We hope this aid will go to the Lebanese people not the corrupt leaders.”
Another said that, while a French president had taken time to visit them, Lebanon’s president had not.
Macron told the crowd he would speak to Lebanon’s political leaders.
“I will propose to them a new political pact this afternoon,” he said.
“I will be back on the first of September and if they can’t do it, I will keep my responsibility toward you.”
He also promised that French aid would be given out with transparency and “will not go into the hands of corruption.”
France once governed Lebanon as a protectorate and maintains close ties.
Macron also said his visit was “an opportunity to have a frank and challenging dialogue with the Lebanese political powers and institutions.”
There have been widespread pledges of international aid to Lebanon, but the country has been mired in a severe economic crisis and faces a daunting challenge in rebuilding.
It’s unclear how much support the international community will offer the notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional government.
Losses from the blast were estimated by Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, who said nearly 300,000 people are homeless.
The disaster may also have accelerated the country’s coronavirus outbreak, as thousands flooded into hospitals.
Tens of thousands have had to move in with relatives and friends after their homes were damaged, further raising the risks of exposure.