French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged Lebanon's political leaders to enact sweeping reforms to douse public anger over a lethal explosion that killed 145 people. Macron offered Beirut France's help but said he would not be giving "blank checks" to a government with no credibility.
Speaking to journalists at the end of a snap visit to Beirut, Emmanuel Macronpromised to organise an international aid conference for disaster-hit Lebanon "in the coming days", but warned the country "will continue to sink" if the government does not implement much-needed reforms.
For many Lebanese, Tuesday's warehouse explosion that killed at least 157 people, was the last straw after years of corruption and mismanagement by a political elite that has ruled for decades.
They blame the ruling elite for abandoning a cargo of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser that can also be used in bombs, at Beirut's port, thought to have caused Tuesday's explosion.
Macron told reporters that an international inquiry into the blast was needed, and that this had to be as transparent as possible.
Time to act
For the French president, the blast was an urgent signal to carry out anti-corruption reforms demanded by a furious population, urging Lebanon's leaders to create a new "political order."
"I call on them to take responsibility because it is time for them to act," he said, warning Lebanon's political leadership that he wouldn't give "blank checks to a system that no longer has the trust of its people.
Macron, paying the first visit by a foreign leader since the explosion, told reporters that an audit was needed on the Lebanese central bank, among other urgent changes, and that the World Bank and United Nations would play a role in any Lebanese reforms.
"If there is no audit of the central bank, in a few months there will be no more imports and then there will be lack of fuel and of food," he said.
Offers of aid
There have been widespread pledges of international aid to Lebanon, which was already mired in a severe economic crisis that has crippled its ability to rebuild from the blast.
However, the international community has been reluctant to offer support to the notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional government.
Many Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in the financial crisis, say the blast is symptomatic of political cronyism and rampant graft among the ruling elite.
Dozens of residents mobbed the French president as he toured some of the devastated streets calling for an end to the regime of President Michel Aoun.
One woman shouted at Macron, "You are sitting with warlords. They have been manipulating us for the past year."
He replied, "I'm not here to help them. I'm here to help you." They then hugged.
Macron told the throngs that greeted him that French aid "will not go to corrupt hands."
"I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain. This is why I'm here."
Back home in France, some of Macron's political opponents accused him of seeking to pull the strings in Lebanon and revive France's colonial-era influence over a country reeling from a giant, deadly explosion.
"I am warning against any interference in Lebanon's political life. It won't be accepted," Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far-left France Unbowed party said. "Lebanon is not a French protectorate," he added.
But others, including among Macron's opponents, defended his stance.
"It's just as well he's asking for reforms from a government whose negligence and corruption is legendary," said Raphael Glucksmann, a more moderate figure on the left.
"That's what Lebanese citizens are asking for. What they're shouting in the rubble. Any other tone would have been obscene," he tweeted.
Macron dismissed allegations of interference, telling the crowd: "You can't ask me to substitute for your leaders. It's not possible. And in any case, it would not be a solution."
"It's up to you to write your history."