Lebanon’s Sunni leader Hariri urges revival of French plan

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has called for the restoration of a French plan to lift the nation out of its worst financial crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

France, which has led foreign aid efforts, has tried to rally Lebanese leaders to launch reforms to tackle the crisis. But they have failed to agree on a new government — the first step in the French roadmap — and drawn a rebuke from French President Emmanuel Macron.

Lebanon urgently needs foreign cash to get out of a financial crisis that has slashed the value of the currency since last year.

Talks on a new cabinet hit a logjam as politicians wrangled over ministerial posts, with Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal demanding that they name the finance minister.

Hariri said that he would only return as prime minister — a post he has held three times — if there was agreement by Lebanon’s fractious parties on securing an International Monetary Fund deal.

His coalition government was toppled a year ago by huge protests by Lebanese furious at an entrenched ruling elite that has overseen a state riddled with graft and drowning in debt.

“I call on political parties to think well so as not to waste this chance. French President Macron’s initiative still stands and we can still enact it,” Hariri said in a TV interview late on Thursday. “If we let it fail, it would be a crime.”

Hariri said: “There are currently two or three projects in the country. The project undertaken by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement is linked to abroad. There is a project that wants to get the country out of this crisis and to free itself from the parties and it is based on the fact that Lebanon comes first.”

He added: “How do you watch your back if three quarters of the Lebanese people are hungry? There is an economic collapse, and the conspiracy is against the people. No one is conspiring against Hezbollah. Everyone in Lebanon and the international community knows that Hezbollah’s weapons exist, and these weapons have regional repercussions. In order to solve this issue, you have to solve the regional problem.”

Hariri warned that he feared civil strife as the crisis spirals. It has fueled unrest in a country where divisions have run deep since the war, which was fought along sectarian lines by factions still dominating Lebanese politics.

“What is happening in terms of carrying arms and what we are seeing in terms of weapons’ displays in the street means the collapse of the state,” he said.

Hariri warned: “If a government supported by Hezbollah is formed, absolutely no one abroad will give Lebanon a single penny. We will be repeating the same problem.”

President Michel Aoun will hold consultations with lawmakers next week to pick a new prime minister, in a bid to reach a breakthrough on naming a new government.

Presidential spokesman, Rafik Shalala, told Arab News: “There is no comment, neither negative nor positive, on what Hariri has proposed.”

Sources close to the presidency said: “President Aoun considers that Hariri’s proposal has stirred the pot.”

Hariri’s media adviser, Hussein Al-Wajh, told Arab News: “Hariri said he is a natural candidate for premiership. His main message is to revive the French initiative for it is the sole opportunity available to stop the collapse.”

Foreign donors have made it clear that there will be no fresh aid unless Lebanese leaders launch reforms to tackle graft and improve governance, and engage in IMF negotiations.

IMF talks stalled this year over a row among Lebanese government officials, bankers and political parties about the vast scale of financial losses.

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