Fri, 25 Sep 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Lebanon Thursday, the first world leader in Beirut after the port blast that wreaked destruction across the capital, as France seeks to provide its former colony with urgent disaster aid.

The blast on Tuesday - blamed on an unsecured store of ammonium nitrate at the Beirut port - devastated entire neighbourhoods, killed over 100 people and left up to 300,000 without homes.

It was the latest blow to a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic crisis and political turbulence.

"I will go to Beirut tomorrow to bring the Lebanese people a message of fraternity and solidarity from the French," Macron wrote on Twitter.

Macron was greeted by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and is expected to head directly to the port to meet Lebanese and French teams in the disaster area.

Later in the day, Macron will head to the presidential palace for meetings with "all political actors", including Prime Minister Hassan Diab. He will also meet with members of different political factions and civil society before giving a press conference later that afternoon.

Both sides will be hoping Macron's visit goes more smoothly than a trip last month by France's top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian, who scolded Lebanon's political elite for being too "passive" in the face of an economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the aftermath of that visit, Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned in protest at his government's lack of crisis management.

International support pours in

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Wednesday at least 21 French citizens were injured in the blast and prosecutors had opened a probe into "negligent injury" using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad.

Two French planes were also expected to arrive on Thursday with specialist rescue personnel and equipment.

Offers of international support have poured in.

Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies.

Turkey said it would send 20 doctors to help treat the injured, as well as medical and relief assistance. Iraq pledged fuel aid, while Iran offered food and a field hospital.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted: "We sympathize with the dear Lebanese citizens and stand by them in the painful tragedy of the Beirut port explosion ... Patience in the face of this incident will be a golden leaf of honour for Lebanon."

The United States, Britain and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered aid. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialised search and rescue teams.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Orginally published on France24

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