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World News

'Ashamed': Lebanese despair at leaders after Macron's rebuke

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese are in despair at their sectarian leaders who have left the nation without government during the worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war that has already driven many into poverty.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference on the political situation in Lebanon following Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Moustapha Adib's resignation, in Paris, France September 27, 2020. Lewis Joly/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Emmanuel Macron, president of Lebanon’s former colonial power France who has led international efforts to offer support, also rebuked politicians after his initiative faltered when the prime minister-designate quit amid bickering for ministerial posts.

With politics deadlocked and the economy crushed by debt, Lebanon’s pound took a further dive, adding to the pain of citizens, many of whom have struggled to make ends meet since the economic crisis erupted last year.

“The first thing we need is a government,” said Taleb Tamer, a 31-year-old baker in Beirut, which was hammered by a devastating port blast last month that killed almost 200 people.

“I have rent, household expenses and the pound is finished. God willing, they will form a government to fix the situation. But it needs time,” he said.

The ruling elite have yet to signal how they will solve the crisis in a nation where politics relies on power-sharing between Christian and Muslim sects. The challenge of finding an exit deepened on Saturday when Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim named on Aug. 31, stood down.

His efforts to form a cabinet of non-partisan ministers ran into the sand after Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite groups, the Amal Movement and the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah, demanded that they name several ministers, including the finance post.

‘SCOLDING’ POLITICIANS

Lebanon, dubbed the Switzerland of the Middle East before its civil war, has been trying to rebuild since the conflict. But its plans stumbled as debts mounted amid fractious, sectarian politics that have provided fertile ground for regional rivalries to play out between Sunni Muslim Gulf Arabs, Shi’ite Iran and others.

“I am ashamed of Lebanon’s political leaders,” Macron said in Paris on Sunday, after politicians reneged on their promise to him on Sept. 1 to swiftly form a government that could start reforms and trigger vital foreign aid.

He criticised Hezbollah and a leading Sunni politician, former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, for their roles in the deadlock.

Macron told politicians this month they could face sanctions if corruption stood in the way of reforms. On Sunday, he said he would give them up to six weeks more to form a cabinet, saying he would only consider sanctions at a later stage.

A source from the Shi’ite political bloc said such words would not push politicians to give ground: “Does Macron think that by scolding the main political forces, which have weighty parliamentary blocs, he can change their positions by force?”

Macron’s new deadline falls after a U.S. election on Nov. 3, when the future of Washington’s policy may become clearer.

President Donald Trump, seeking re-election, has taken a hard line with new or tougher sanctions on Hezbollah, its backer Iran and some Lebanese allies of the group.

It has left many Lebanese feeling their fate would be decided by international politics.

“Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, America, if they agree on a solution between them, then we will have a solution,” said Ahmed Nassereddin, 40, who was forced to close his shops selling imported clothing brands due to the crisis.

Reporting by Edmund Blair, Ellen Francis, Laila Bassam in Beirut; John Irish and Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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