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Getting personal, France ups pressure on Lebanon to end political deadlock

FM Jean-Yves Le Drian phones Lebanese president, acting PM and parliament speaker; urges them to end ‘blockage,’ form government

An anti-government protester holds a placard, as she looks at a Lebanese army soldier, during a protest against the political leadership they blame for the economic and financial crisis, near the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, March. 27, 2021. (Bilal Hussein/AP)
An anti-government protester holds a placard, as she looks at a Lebanese army soldier, during a protest against the political leadership they blame for the economic and financial crisis, near the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, March. 27, 2021. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

PARIS — France’s foreign minister has cranked up pressure on Lebanese leaders to form a government, urging them in personal phone calls toward an immediate halt to what he called “deliberate obstruction” that’s driving the country toward collapse.

Jean-Yves Le Drian called Lebanese President Michel Aoun, acting Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri and deplored the seven months of political stalemate that are worsening Lebanon’s economic crisis, according to a statement from the foreign minister’s office Monday.

“The deliberate obstruction of any prospect of an exit from the crisis… by demands that are unreasonable and out-of-date, must immediately halt,” the statement said. “The time has come to strengthen pressure” to end the blockage, it added.

“He reminded them that all of Lebanon’s political parties bore all the responsibility for this impasse,” the ministry said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives for a European Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, March 22, 2021. (Aris Oikonomou, Pool Photo via AP)

The Lebanese economy is in freefall, with parliament approving Monday an emergency funding package simply to keep the lights on after one of the country’s largest power plants ran out of fuel.

More than half the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and protests flared again this month by a population fed up with a ruling elite lambasted as inefficient and corrupt.

“In this context, the deliberate obstructions to ending the crisis, in particular on the part of certain actors of the Lebanese political system with unreasonable demands dating from another era, must cease immediately,” the French ministry said.

Last week talks between Aoun and Hariri on the formation of a new Cabinet broke down.

Le Drian is also asking European counterparts to join the push for action.

Last year French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a road map to break the political stalemate in the former French protectorate. Macron has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a Cabinet made up of non-partisan specialists that can work on urgent reforms to extract Lebanon from a financial crisis worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion that devastated Beirut.

Those efforts have led to nowhere as Lebanon’s politicians continue to bicker about the shape and size of a new Cabinet while the country is mired in the worst economic crisis in its modern history — a situation exacerbated by pandemic restrictions.

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