France's Le Drian threatens to increase pressure on Lebanese politicians

The French envoy warned his government was planning 'restrictive measures'

epa09180317 A handout picture made available by Lebanese official photographer Dalati Nohra shows President Michel Aoun (R) meeting with French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Yves Le Drian (L) at the Presidential Palace in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon 06 May 2021.  EPA/DALATI NOHRA HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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France's foreign minister threatened to step up pressure against Lebanese politicians he accused of committing "collective suicide" by failing to pull the country out of its economic meltdown.

On a visit to Beirut, Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on Friday that France, which has led foreign aid efforts to Lebanon, had to act in the face of the political impasse, months into a deadlock in cabinet talks.

He said that should it persist, there would be strict punitive measures, taken by France and potentially the EU, against Lebanese officials blocking progress. He did not answer questions on who would be affected or when.

"What I can tell you is that for us, the test period of responsibility is over. So we have decided to reinforce pressure," Mr Le Drian said. "We have started to initiate restrictive measures. Those who are targeted will know it."

France, the former colonial ruler in Lebanon, has grown frustrated after failed attempts to rally the country's feuding leaders to agree a new cabinet or launch reforms to unlock badly-needed foreign aid.

The currency has crashed since 2019, the banking sector is paralysed and much of the population is now poor.

Last month, Paris said it was taking measures to restrict entry for some Lebanese officials for blocking efforts to tackle the unprecedented crisis, which is rooted in decades of corruption and indebtedness.

There has been no official announcement of what steps France has taken, or against whom, and the potential impact remains unclear, as several Lebanese politicians hold dual nationality.

Mr Le Drian's trip included meeting activists as well as visiting schools and Beirut port, where a massive explosion last August killed more than 200 people. The caretaker government resigned over the devastating blast.

A stand-off over the cabinet line-up between President Michel Aoun and three-time premier Saad Al Hariri, who was designated to form a government in October, has since deepened.

Mr Le Drian said he told Mr Aoun, Mr Hariri and longtime parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in meetings on Wednesday that he was there to support the Lebanese people and the logjam must end. "I am here to avoid this collective suicide orchestrated by some," he said.