French President Emmanuel Macron has warned Lebanese politicians they risk sanctions if they fail to set the nation on a new course within three months, stepping up pressure for reforms in a country collapsing under the weight of an economic crisis.
Visiting for the second time in less than a month, Macron marked Lebanon’s centenary by traveling to a forest outside Beirut to plant a cedar tree, the emblem of a nation facing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.
In central Beirut, close to the port that was devastated in a huge Aug. 4 blast, police fired teargas at stone-throwing protesters who gathered outside parliament to vent anger at mismanagement and state corruption that has dragged Lebanon into crisis.
“It’s the last chance for this system,” Macron told POLITICO in an interview. “It’s a risky bet I’m making ... I am putting the only thing I have on the table: my political capital.”
Macron, who toured the wrecked port on Tuesday, said he wanted “credible commitments” and a follow-up mechanism from Lebanon’s leaders, including a legislative election in six to 12 months.
Should they fail to shift direction in the next three months, he said, punitive measures could be imposed, including withholding bailout money and sanctions on the ruling class.
Lebanese politicians, some of them former warlords who have overseen decades of industrial-scale corruption, now face a daunting task with an economy in meltdown, a swathe of Beirut in tatters after the port blast and sectarian tensions rising.
Pressure from Macron, who told online news provider Brut he would visit again in December, has already pushed major parties to agree on a new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, who has called for the rapid formation of a government and promised swift reforms to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund.
Forming a cabinet has taken months in the past. But Macron said he would push politicians to move swiftly and said billions of dollars in funds pledged at a 2018 Paris donor conference in Paris would not be released without reforms.