France to host Lebanon aid event on anniversary of port disaster

The international conference will be held on August 4, a year after a massive port blast devastated Beirut.

Macron during a visit to destroyed Beirut port on August 6, 2020 [File: Thibault Camus/Pool via Reuters]

France’s foreign ministry has said President Emmanuel Macron will host a new international conference on crisis-hit Lebanon next month, on the first anniversary of a devastating explosion at Beirut’s port that killed some 200 people and wrecked much of the Lebanese capital.

The announcement on Friday came a day after Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri gave up trying to form a government, striking a further blow to a long-running political impasse. Prime Minister Hassan Diab has been serving in a caretaker capacity since resigning in the wake of the port explosion on August 4, 2020, with fractious sectarian politicians unable to agree on a new government ever since.

The French foreign ministry said in a statement the event will be organised with the help of the United Nations “to respond to the needs of the Lebanese whose situation is deteriorating every day”.

Macron had hosted a first aid conference in the wake of the port explosion, rallying some 250 million euros in pledges ($295m). But France, the former colonial power, has repeatedly expressed exasperation over the failure of Lebanon’s leaders to end a political and economic crisis that dates back to well before the explosion.

The foreign ministry said Hariri’s failure to form a government “confirms the political deadlock which Lebanese leaders have deliberately continued for months, even as Lebanon sinks into an unprecedented economic and social crisis”.

It said there was now an “absolute urgency” to remove this “deliberate and unacceptable obstacle” and allow the formation of a government in Lebanon and the rapid appointment of a prime minister.

“It is clear that the international community is frustrated with the political class and any help they are gonna give is going to go directly to the people,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut.

However, some believe the political vacuum is going to continue until next year’s parliamentary election, scheduled to be held in May, Khodr said.

Lebanon is run under a power-sharing agreement to fully represent its religious communities. Key political and security offices are allocated to different sects. The president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim.

A nine-month political impasse

Hariri, who had been nominated as the next prime minister in October 2020, said on Thursday he was unable to form a government after a meeting with President Michael Aoun, an ally of the Shia group Hezbollah.

Supporters of Hariri and his Future Movement party blocked roads with burning tyres and rubbish bins in several areas around Beirut. Several dozen protesters at Beirut’s Sports City scuffled with Lebanese soldiers in riot gear who fired rubber-coated steel bullets.

Main highways south of the capital were also targeted by demonstrators. Roads in the northern city of Tripoli and in the southern city of Sour were also blocked.

People in Lebanon are struggling with a 35 percent unemployment rate, which is expected to rise to 40 percent, while the local currency has lost about 95 percent of its value in nearly two years – effectively evaporating the savings of hundreds of thousands of families. At least half of the population has slipped into poverty, while food inflation is at more than 400 percent.

Hariri’s move had an immediate effect on people’s buying power as the Lebanese pound hit a new all-time low exceeding 21,000 to the US dollar.

“It’s a daily struggle,” Khodr said

“There are social tensions,” she added, noting “there is a real fear of a security breakdown” in Lebanon, “a country with a turbulent past thas witnessed a civil war, assassinations and bombings”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies