French envoy slams Lebanon PM for shifting blame on economic collapse

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's PM Diab is pictured at the government palace in Beirut

BEIRUT (Reuters) -The French ambassador has rebuked Lebanon's prime minister for saying the country is under siege and blamed years of "mismanagement and inaction" by Lebanese leaders for its economic collapse.

The World Bank has called Lebanon's crisis one of the worst depressions of modern history. The currency has lost more than 90% of its value and more than half the population has been propelled into poverty.

French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo was speaking on Tuesday in response to a speech by caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who told envoys that a siege had been imposed on the country and warned of imminent social unrest.

In a recording of her comments circulated by the French embassy on Wednesday, Grillo blamed Lebanon's "political class" for the downfall.

"But what is frightening, Mr Prime Minister, is that today this brutal collapse ... is the deliberate result of mismanagement and inaction for years," she said.

"It is not the result of an external siege. It is the result of your own responsibilities, all of you, for years, of the political class. This is the reality."

Diab has been serving in a caretaker capacity since resigning in the wake of the catastrophic Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion. Since then, fractious sectarian politicians have been unable to agree on a new government.

Donors have long demanded reforms to stamp out state corruption and waste - widely seen as root causes of the crisis.

Both Grillo and the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea are travelling to Saudi Arabia for meetings on the situation in Lebanon with Saudi officials on Thursday, statements by the two embassies said.

The gathering comes after the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's trilateral meeting on Lebanon with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud on the sidelines of the G-20 conference on June 29.

Thursday's meeting in Saudi Arabia will include a discussion on aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces.

On Tuesday, Diab had noted repeated calls for assistance to be linked to reform, but said "the siege imposed" on Lebanon was not affecting the corrupt - an apparent reference to politicians.

Lebanese were running out of patience and "linking Lebanon's assistance to the formation of a new government has become a threat to the lives of the Lebanese and to the Lebanese entity", he said, saying the country was a few days away from a social explosion.

Grillo noted that France, with the backing of other powers, had organised two conferences on Lebanon since the Aug. 4 explosion and was working on a third.

"France and many partner countries around this table have not waited for this call to help Lebanon," said Grillo, adding that last year Paris extended $100 million in direct assistance to the Lebanese people.

Though Diab's government is serving in a caretaker capacity, she said it could take steps including implementing a social safety net with World Bank financing.

Diab’s speech echoed accusations made by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday, in which he blamed the United States for the suffering of the Lebanese, accusing it of forcing countries not to provide aid for Lebanon.

(Reporting by Imad Creidi; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, William Maclean)

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