Berating political class, Macron vows more urgent aid for Lebanese people

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France's president said on Wednesday a fund will be set up to ensure aid is channelled directly to the Lebanese people, but warned that without a credible new government there would be no international bailout to save the beleaguered country.

Emmanuel Macron is trying to revive a French initiative on Lebanon, but with the country's fractious political class bickering, hopes of a breakthrough anytime soon appear slim.

Four months after a massive explosion that killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the capital city, Lebanon is no closer to forming a credible government to overhaul the bankrupt state despite French efforts to convince politicians to introduce partial reforms to confront the emergency.

France, the United States and other donors who repeatedly came to Lebanon's aid after the 1975-90 civil war are losing patience with its politicians, many of them familiar faces in charge during the country's descent into economic crisis.

"The immediate (humanitarian) needs are still not taken care of with the country falling further into crisis," Macron said at the opening of a video conference hosting heads of state and non-governmental organisations to take stock of the humanitarian situation in the country.

He said a fund handled by the World Bank, United Nations and European Union would be set up to work with non-governmental organisations to provide support ranging from food, healthcare, education and reconstruction of the port.

"This support does not replace the commitment of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to form a government and put into action the reform roadmap without which the international economic help will not come," Macron said.

Macron, a natural ally given Lebanon is a former French colony, has invested a lot of political capital in trying to break the deadlock, vowing not to give up on the Lebanese.

He is due to visit French troops operating as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon around Dec. 20, diplomats said.

"We will not give up on the promises we made or the demands on the reforms or the investigation on the origins of the explosion. I will head to Lebanon in December to carry those demands," he said.

Officials have made it clear that Lebanon will not be bailed out without structural reforms, a full audit of the central bank and that any immediate aid will only be to help urgent recovery.

"Lebanon will not escape this type of audit if it wants serious negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. It is indispensable, otherwise it's bankruptcy," a French official said.

A similar conference in August raised nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) in pledges. The official said Wednesday's conference should raise a bit more.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Potter)

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