BEIRUT: French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday Lebanese authorities risk getting sanctioned if Lebanon is not set on a new course of reforms in three months, during his second visit to Beirut in less than a month, on what marks the centenary of the creation of the Lebanese state.
During a visit to the destroyed Beirut Port, Macron said he proposed a mechanism for follow-ups in the coming months because "we won’t release the CEDRE funds if reforms are not enacted."
He gave Lebanese authorities three months to implement reforms focusing on the electricity sector and the need to restructure the banking system.
"I can’t say anything except that the entire political class should change," Macron said, adding that new elections will provide the opportunity for the Lebanese people to express their anger and produce a new political reality.
Speaking on Hezbollah's involvement in Lebanese politics, he said that it is a party that represents a part of Lebanese people, and that the party should be made aware of its responsibilities by political parties if "we don't want Lebanon to slip into a state where terrorism prevails."
Macron later Tuesday confirmed he would return to Lebanon in December for his third visit in the wake of the catastrophic August explosion in Beirut, the French presidency told AFP.
Macron told reporters earlier that the upcoming six weeks are of vital importance for the future of Lebanon, adding that he is prepared to organize another international aid conference for Lebanon that would be held mid-October, what will be the second donor conference spearheaded by France in around two months, the first one being days after the Beirut Port blast, to help Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion and as it grapples with its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
Macron said the aid Lebanon receives should be tracked in a transparent manner, during a meeting with civil society members and NGOs who provided aid and collected donations to help those affected by the explosion.
"There is a coordination problem," Macron said, referring to the aid process, adding that there is an organizational issue in the matter.
Lebanon received overwhelming humanitarian aid from countries all around the world after a devastating blast tore through its capital on Aug. 4, leaving more than 190 dead and around 6,500 injured.
Macron earlier marked Lebanon's centenary by planting a cedar tree at the Jaj cedar reserve in Jbeil to show his "confidence in the future of the country," the Elysée Palace said.
The French air force display team flew overhead, leaving smoke trails of red, white and green, the national colors of Lebanon whose borders were proclaimed by France 100 years ago in an imperial carve up with Britain.
Lebanon gained independence in 1943.
The French president then visited the port site and areas affected by the blast, and later met President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri at the Baabda Palace, where a ceremony marking the centenary of the creation of the Lebanese state was held, in addition to a luncheon which was also attended by caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, political leaders, the French delegation, businessmen and ambassadors.
French jets for a second time flew over Beirut, painting the skies the red, white and green of the national flag upon Macron’s arrival at the palace.
Many took to twitter to criticize the celebration. “What a brilliant idea to subject a traumatized population reeling from a massive explosion and living in a country whose air space is regularly violated to a military show [right now],” Lara Bitar tweeted.
Macron is also set to meet Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai and later with head of parliamentary blocs at the Pine Residence - the official residence of the French ambassador in Lebanon.
MACRON WARNS OF SANCTIONS
The French president landed in Beirut Monday night, hours after diplomat Mustapha Adib was appointed as the new prime minister-designate and visited legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz at her residence in Rabieh.
He was greeted by angry protesters who were chanting “Mustapha Adib no,” as they view him as another yes-man to the political elite.
Macron arrived in Lebanon ahead of "risky" talks with Lebanese leaders to pressure them to implement reforms that are vital for the country's survival.
"It's the last chance for this system," Macron told POLITICO in an interview while traveling to Beirut Monday. "It’s a risky bet I'm making, I am aware of it ... I am putting the only thing I have on the table: my political capital."
He warned Lebanese leaders will be sanctioned if reforms are not implemented.
Macron’s second visit comes on the heels of the designation of Adib, who was chosen by Lebanon’s main ruling parties under French pressure.
TEAR GAS FIRED AS PROTESTS ERUPT
Protests erupted in various areas of Beirut Tuesday, with Security forces launching large amounts of tear gas to disperse dozens of demonstrators attempting to break through barricades in front of Lebanon’s Parliament.
Protesters launched rocks and lit debris on fire by the barricades blocking access to the Parliament buildings in Nijmeh Square, on the occasion of the centenary of the creation of the Lebanese state. Some attempted to climb the barriers but were unable to get through to the other side.
At least 200 protesters gathered in Martyrs’ Square in the late afternoon, under the slogan “Their time is up,” referring to the country’s ruling elite that nationwide protests attempted to topple last October.
Many were seen waving Lebanese flags with black stripes instead of red. Songs of the revolution played loudly from a newly erected stage in the square.
Dozens of demonstrators also scuffled with security forces in front of the French Embassy's Pine Residence, where French President Emmanuel Macron was meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai. Protesters attempted to take down metal barriers, demanding the release of the leftist Lebanese prisoner in France, George Abdullah.
As protests dwindled, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis on the occasion of Lebanon’s centenary said that the political class had failed the Lebanese people.
“In spite of its current existential crisis it is not Lebanon, that failed, it is the political class, that kept failing the country & its people,” Kubis said in tweet.