Saad Hariri asks Pope Francis for help to tackle Lebanon's crises

Pope promises to visit Lebanon if a Cabinet is formed

This photo taken and handout on April 22, 2021 by The Vatican Media shows Pope Francis and Lebanon's prime minister-designate Saad Hariri exchanging gifts during a private audience in The Vatican. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /VATICAN MEDIA / HANDOUT " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / VATICAN MEDIA / Handout / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /VATICAN MEDIA / HANDOUT " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad Hariri asked the Vatican on Thursday to help Lebanon tackle its political and economic crisis during an official visit to Italy where he met with Pope Francis.

Mr Hariri said he discussed with the Pope and Italian officials the challenges facing Lebanon and asked the Vatican to help rally international support for the small Mediterranean nation.

Pope Francis, who became the first pontiff to visit Iraq in March, promised to visit Lebanon after a Cabinet is formed, Mr Hariri said.

Pope Francis meets with Lebanese Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri at the Vatican, April 22, 2021. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

“The Pope wished to reiterate his closeness to the people of Lebanon, who are experiencing a moment of great difficulty and uncertainty, and recalled the responsibility of all political forces to urgently commit themselves to the benefit of the nation,” the Vatican’s press office said.

Mr Hariri, whose diplomatic travels have intensified in recent months, has yet to form a government almost seven months after his designation. The prime-minister designate has been at loggerheads with the president, a staunch ally of the Iran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, over the upcoming Cabinet’s makeup and reform agenda.

“I think the Vatican knows well the core of the problem in Lebanon,” Mr Hariri told reporters following his 30-minute meeting with Pope Francis.

He has accused President Michel Aoun of seeking veto power in the upcoming government and blocking his efforts to form a Cabinet of non-partisan experts that would undertake reforms in exchange for international financial support.

The political paralysis has accentuated Lebanon’s economic and financial crises, which saw the national currency lose over 85 per cent of its market value against the dollar since late 2019.

The country’s economic woes were further compounded by the massive Beirut port explosion that killed over 200 people last August and destroyed large parts of the capital.

The explosion forced the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government, leaving Lebanon without a fully functioning Cabinet since.

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