Lebanon News

Lebanon to lose French loans unless a president is elected

Girardin speaks at the French Embassy Monday, March 23, 2015 (The Daily Star, Khalil Hassan)

BEIRUT: A visiting French official Monday reminded Lebanon that it could not benefit from $181 million worth of loans if the country fails to elect a president before a summer deadline.

The French Development Agency has granted the Lebanese government soft loans valued at 166 million euros ($181 million) that cannot be used due to the paralysis in Lebanon’s state institutions, Annick Girardin, France’s minister of state for development and francophonie, said in a news conference at the French Embassy in Beirut.

The official called on Lebanese politicians to elect a president and revive public institutions to allow for the processing of the loans. If that is not achieved by June, the loans will expire, she said.

She praised the French Development Agency for pledging 26 million euros for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Girardin, who is set to attend an international donor summit for Syrian refugees in Kuwait next week, said that France would continue to assist Lebanon in accommodating the mass refugee influx.

The country hosts around 1.18 million registered Syrian refugees, but authorities say that unofficial figures are much higher.

Wrapping up her two-day visit to Lebanon, Girardin met Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail.

During her trip, the French official also held talks with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, Culture Minister Raymond Areiji and other officials.

During her news conference, Girardin said that she relayed to the government France’s insistence on insulating Lebanon from the spillover of the Syrian conflict.

The visit comes in the framework of a strong “friendship” between the two countries that is characterized by historic, cultural and economic ties, she said.

The visit also marks the conclusion of the International Month of the Francophonie, which comes to a close at the end of March.

Lebanon has failed to elect a president over the past 10 months, with the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions failing to agree on a consensus candidate.

Girardin said that she discussed the issue of the presidential vacuum during her talks with Lebanese officials, stressing that it was the Lebanese themselves who had to decide on this matter.

She added that her country has done its best to help elect a president, adding that France would continue with such efforts.

In past months, France has sent Jean Francois Girault, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the French Foreign Ministry, to Lebanon several times, to help break the presidential deadlock.

Girault also visited Saudi Arabia and Iran, which support opposing camps in Lebanon. However, his efforts hit a dead end.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 24, 2015, on page 4.

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