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French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Lebanon Thursday, the first world leader in Beirut after the port blast that wreaked destruction across the capital, and called for the country's political elite to make swift and urgent reforms.
The blast on Tuesday – blamed on an unsecured store of ammonium nitrate at the Beirut port – devastated entire neighbourhoods, killed over 100 people and left up to 300,000 without homes.
It was the latest blow to a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic crisis and political turbulence.
Macron was greeted on the tarmac by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and is expected to head directly to the port to meet Lebanese and French teams in the disaster area.
Speaking shortly after his arrival, Macron said he hoped to bring a message of support and friendship to the Lebanese people.
“Lebanon is facing political and economic crisis and an urgent response to this is required,” the French president said.
He said he would organise further French, European and international aid for Lebanon in the coming days.
But he also urged the countrys political elite to make urgent reforms.
"If reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to suffer," he said.
France 'very popular' here in Lebanon
Later in the day, Macron will head to the presidential palace for meetings with “all political actors”, including Prime Minister Hassan Diab. He will also meet with members of different political factions and civil society before giving a press conference later that afternoon.
Both sides are hoping Macrons visit goes more smoothly than a trip last month by France's top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian, who scolded Lebanon's political elite for being too "passive" in the face of an economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the aftermath of that visit, Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned in protest at his government's lack of crisis management.
“France is very popular here in Lebanon. Theres a longrunning history of a relationship between the two,” said FRANCE 24s Leila Molana-Allen, reporting from Beirut.
"Recently, the tensions have been over the fact that of course the French government is not coordinating with the Lebanese government in the way that politicians here want them to but the Lebanese people, many of them, are happy about that. They feel that international money should not be going to this government.
"Many people who have been protesting for the last nine months, they say that this government will not spend it on the things that people actually need,” Molana-Allen added.
International support pours in
Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said Wednesday at least 21 French citizens were injured in the blast and prosecutors had opened a probe into "negligent injury" using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad.
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