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Macron seeks $350 mn in donor aid for blast-scarred Lebanon

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4 August 2021, 11.45

French President Emmanuel Macron aims to raise at least $350 million in emergency aid for Lebanon on Wednesday at a donor conference held on the first anniversary of a massive blast that gutted part of Beirut.

The August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people, traumatising the nation and bringing an already stuttering Lebanese economy closer to the brink of collapse.

Fuel, medicine and food have all grown scarce, but bickering between Lebanon's political parties has held up the formation of a new government, delaying a much-needed international bailout.

France says Wednesday's video conference, which is being co-hosted by Macron and United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, needs to raise $357 million to meet the most urgent needs of the Lebanese people in terms of food, health, clean water and education.

"One year after the tragedy, Lebanon can continue to count on France's solidarity," Macron tweeted ahead of the virtual meeting.

US President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and Lebanon's own President Michel Aoun will be among the participants from around 40 countries and multilateral organisations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the International Monetary Fund.

The conference is the third in aid of Lebanon to be organised by former colonial power France in as many years.

Each time, donors have pledged millions in emergency relief but conditioned a broader rescue plan on Lebanese politicians forming a government that commits to tackling rampant corruption, among reforms.

Lebanon has been without a government for all of the past year.

Najib Mikati, the billionaire businessman recently appointed prime minister, had hoped to form a cabinet by the anniversary of the blast but squabbling over cabinet posts continues.

"There is no still no progress on the formation of a government or the implementation of urgent reforms. Given the dramatic deterioriation of the economic, this is irresponsible," German foreign minister Heiko Maas, who is taking part in the donor conference, said on Wednesday.

The EU said last week it was ready to impose sanctions on members of the ruling elite who obstruct attempts to improve governance and public sector accountability.

France has already barred several Lebanese officials from its territory, without naming them.

"It's a first step, those who are targeted know it. The pressure will continue to grow," one of Macron's aides told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

One of the chief demands of the Lebanese population and the international community is that top officials be investigated over the warehouse fire that triggered the port blast.

The depot contained hundreds of tonnes of poorly stored ammonium nitrate.