Beirut // France’s far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday met for the first time with a foreign head of state, holding talks in Beirut with Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun.
“We discussed the long and fruitful friendship between our two countries,” the Front National (FN) leader said after her 30-minute encounter at the presidential palace in the hilltop suburb of Baabda with Mr Aoun, the Middle East’s only Christian president.
Ms Le Pen, who is leading polls for the first round of France’s presidential election on April 23, said they also discussed the refugee crisis in Lebanon, where more than one million Syrians have fled their country’s conflict, making up one in four of the Lebanese population.
“We raised ... the concerns we share over the very serious refugee crisis,” she said. “These difficulties are being overcome by the courage and generosity of Lebanon but this cannot go on forever.”
The FN leader, whose party takes an anti-immigrant stance, called on Sunday for the international community to step up humanitarian aid to keep the refugees in Lebanon.
Ms Le Pen also met Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, who cautioned against associating his religion with the terrorist attacks of the extremists who have repeatedly targeted France.
“The worst mistake would be the amalgam between Islam and Muslims on one hand and terrorism on the other hand,” Mr Hariri said.
“The Lebanese and Arabs, like the majority of the world, consider France to be the homeland of human rights and of the republican state that makes no ethnic, religious or class distinction between its citizens,” he said.
On the refugee crisis, Mr Hariri called on the international community “to assume its responsibilities”.
On Tuesday, Ms Le Pen is to meet Lebanon’s grand mufti, the leader of its Sunni community, the Maronite Christian patriarch and rightist Christian party leader Samir Geagea.
Shunned by European leaders over her party’s stance on immigration and anti-EU message, Mr Le Pen’s meeting with Mr Aoun aims to boost her international credibility.
France had mandate power over both Lebanon and Syria during the first half of the 20th century.
Rival presidential hopeful and former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Mr Aoun and Mr Hariri.
Ms Le Pen has met few top foreign officials since taking control of the FN in 2011. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to meet her.
* Agence France-Press