Macron insists on urgent reforms after meeting Lebanese PM Mikati

French president promised to punish those who blocked government reform

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French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted the new government of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati must take urgent reform measures.

But the French leader also offered assurances that Lebanon could still “count on France”.

Mr Macron said Mr Mikati’s Cabinet offered a new opening and called on the government to move quickly.

“With you and your ministers, we have an opportunity to really push ahead on the reforms path,” Mr Macron said at a joint press conference after the leaders met for a working lunch in Paris on Friday.

The meeting came as part of Mr Mikati’s first foreign trip since being confirmed as prime minister earlier this month.

Mr Macron urged the Lebanese leader to tackle the country's economic crisis. Government had been paralysed for more than a year amid arguments among politicians over its composition.

“Lebanon should also start the vital negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, that should be completed quite quickly,” Mr Macron said.

“We will help with infrastructure, energy and aid for the Lebanese people, but Lebanon must begin the necessary negotiations with the IMF and advance the fight against corruption and governance.”

But he warned that there would be punishment for those who had blocked government formation.

“It's a secret to nobody that the negotiations took too long while the living conditions of Lebanese people were getting worse,” he said.

“We promise to punish and condemn those responsible for delaying the formation of the government.”

Mr Mikati insisted that Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for next May would be held on time.

The billionaire telecoms magnate insisted he was serious about the desperately needed reforms.

“I expressed my determination to implement the necessary reforms as soon as possible in order to restore confidence, to give hope and reduce the suffering of the Lebanese population,” he said outside the Elysee Palace.

Mr Macron has led a renewed French interest in Lebanon in recent years.

Following the Beirut port explosion of August 2020, that killed at least 218 people, injured thousands and devastated much of the capital, he was on a flight to Beirut within hours.

Mr Macron walking through wrecked neighbourhoods listening to the grievances of furious residents.

Yet his efforts have wielded little more than disappointment in the past year, leading to France ramping up the pressure on the Lebanese political elite.

Political inertia and intransigence saw the country stuck with a caretaker government for 13 months as the country convulsed in an economic crisis.

This frustration has led to Paris spearheading a drive for sanctions against the Lebanese political elite responsible for blocking reforms and government formation.

At the end of July, the EU published a sanctions regime, though has yet to designate any individuals.

Updated: September 27, 2021, 5:52 AM