Lebanese leaders offer visiting Guterres 'guarantees' on 2022 election

UN chief renewed his calls for a 'transparent' investigation into the August 2020 port blast that killed more than 200 people

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Lebanon's top officials offered UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “guarantees” that next year's parliamentary elections would go ahead as planned and the constitution would be respected, he told journalists as he wrapped up a visit to Beirut on Tuesday.

“Free and fair parliamentary elections to be held on time in 2022 will be an essential opportunity for the people to make their voices heard,” Mr Guterres said at a press conference in the capital on Tuesday.

“The announcement of the president after our meeting that the elections will be held in early May … represents an important guarantee that the constitution will be respected and the meaningful participation of women will be essential.”

The UN head's visit to the cash-strapped nation, still reeling from the political and physical aftermath of the August 2020 port blast which killed over 200 people, began on Sunday.

Mr Guterres reiterated his call for a “thorough, partial and transparent” investigation into the blast to achieve justice for the victims' families.

He also visited UN peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon.

“The role that [UN Interim Force in Lebanon] has been playing is largely responsible for the fact that no major confrontation has taken place at the border between Israel and Lebanon and that is to the credit of the work of the men and women that serve UN and serve peace in Unifil,” he said.

“It is very important that the parties understand that any conflict in this situation could be a tragedy with unpredictable consequences.”

He added that the parties must have “good faith” and “commit themselves to maintain the stability in the Blue Line”, referring to the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel and Lebanon and the Golan Heights

Mr Guterres also urged all sides to negotiate areas where there are “some doubts about the exact position” of the demarcation between the countries, including the maritime boundary between Lebanon and Israel.

UN-mediated talks between the sides ran aground this year with little progress on agreeing on the final boundary.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is facing a dire economic crisis and is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund as a vital lifeline while it hosts more than million Syrian refugees.

The country's central bank governor, Riad Salameh, said on Tuesday that the country needs $12-15 billion to kick-start its economic recovery and help restore diminishing foreign currency reserves.

Though he admitted that the international community was not doing enough to help Lebanon, Mr Guterres confirmed on Tuesday that work with UN member-states was being done to organise a “strong mobilisation” for the country.

A prerequisite for such a move requires the Lebanese government to create social, political and economic reforms “putting the country on the right track in fighting corruption … and presenting a viable economic plan”, Mr Guterres said.

Accountability for the deadly port blast has yet to materialise as the investigation is repeatedly stymied by delays, arrests and accusations of corruption against legal and government officials.

The Lebanese pound has also plummeted as the country becomes more vulnerable to the spread of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus and hospitals struggle to provide even the most basic of care and medication.

Before the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays in December, Lebanon's government announced mandatory vaccination measures will begin from January 10, 2022.

Updated: December 21, 2021, 5:53 PM