Disasters & Accidents

Macron presses Lebanese leaders for reforms after devastating blast

Beirut, Aug 6 (efe-epa).- French President Emmanuel Macron said here Thursday that Paris will provide aid to Lebanon in the wake of the deadly explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port, but he also called on Lebanese leaders to commit to reforms.

Macron joined Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun on a tour of “ground zero” of the disaster that left 137 people dead and 5,000 injured while causing material damage estimated at between $3 billion and $5 billion.

France’s president then visited the upscale, largely Christian and French-speaking neighborhood of Gemmayzeh, where he drew a crowd.

One woman embraced Macron while others in the throng shouted slogans against the Lebanese government and denounced retired army Gen. Aoun as a “terrorist.”

Popular outrage has only increased as it has become clear that the catastrophic blast was the result of official negligence. The consignment of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a common component in fertilizer and in explosives used for mining, that detonated on Tuesday had been sitting in a warehouse in the port since June 2014.

Authorities ignored repeated warnings about the danger posed by the volatile substance.

“Beyond the explosion (…) today there is a political, moral, economic and financial crisis that has lasted for several months, several years, and this implies strong political initiatives,” Macron said during his meeting with Aoun.

The French president also met with Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Parliament speaker Nabih Berri.

Macron called on Lebanese officials to carry out “strong political initiatives to fight corruption, to impose transparency, to carry out reforms” that were proposed during a 2018 donor conference in Paris.

Those reforms include fighting corruption, bringing transparency to the banking system, improving the energy sector to provide a stable supply of electricity and reaching agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on an economic aid package.

Macron said he planned to organize another donor conference to gather aid that will be directed to “the people” and organizations on the ground in Lebanon.

Now is the time “to rebuild the confidence and hope” of the citizens in their leaders, which implies the establishment of a “new political order,” he said.

Officials and party leaders must create “a new political pact with the Lebanese people in the upcoming weeks,” Macron said.

“Lebanon will continue to feel the aftershock of the explosion long after this week’s blast,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

“Besides the loss of life and injury, people have lost their homes and businesses. The country was already in an extremely fragile state, after months of a spiraling economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. This is a severe blow to people who are already struggling,” the statement said. EFE

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