BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman called for help for Lebanon to cope with the growing number of Syrian refugees “who have exceeded 1 million” in this tiny nation.
"Lebanon is suffering the consequences of the Syria crisis as it receives thousands of refugees per day,” Sleiman told Arab ambassadors after arriving in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on the first leg of a West Africa trip.
Lebanon, he said, has no “physical, human or geographical capabilities to provide the appropriate assistance [to Syrian refugees] which today number more than 1 million, a quarter of Lebanon's population, and, consequently, [Lebanon] cannot absorb them.”
Sleiman urged "help for this tiny nation and help preserve it."
He reiterated Lebanon’s long-standing “disassociation” policy toward the Syria crisis, but he said neutrality does not apply to Palestinian occupied territories.
“You cannot have a two-way democracy in the region – turning a blind eye to what Israel is doing on the one hand and demanding Arabs to adopt democracy on the other hand," Sleiman stressed. "Real democracy means giving Palestinians their rights."
He urged the international community to "put pressure on Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative that was adopted in Beirut.”
The president expressed hope that democracy can prevail in Arab countries “which are experiencing a difficult time,” adding that Lebanon is the first country that yearns for democracy.
Sleiman, accompanied by his wife, arrived in Dakar Tuesday night at the head of a 60-member delegation.
Wellwishers held posters depicting Sleiman and Senegalese President Macky Sall shortly before the Lebanese president’s arrival.
Sleiman made a short stop in Algiers before heading south to Senegal, where he said Lebanon sought to learn from Algeria’s experience in managing natural resources.
“Lebanon wants to benefit from Algeria’s experience in managing its oil,” said Sleiman following talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika at Algiers’ Houari Boumediene Airport.
Sleiman’s West Africa trip, the first by a Lebanese president, will next take him to Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.