UN chief warns Lebanese government paralysis could dampen support


BEIRUT (AP) – The UN chief warned on Tuesday that the international community is unlikely to provide much needed support to Lebanon amid the continued paralysis of his government and as the country goes through a “very dramatic crisis “.

Antonio Guterres’ remarks came at the end of his three-day visit in which he repeatedly urged Lebanese political leaders to work together to resolve the economic and financial crisis. He also met with members of civil society groups and the United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

The crisis has plunged more than three quarters of Lebanon’s 6 million inhabitants into poverty; the national currency is in perpetual collapse as the Lebanese blame political leaders for years of corruption and mismanagement.

Guterres said several initiatives were underway to help Lebanon cope with the crisis, including holding an international conference, but the government’s paralysis does not bode well for international support.

“The international community will probably not react … not as we must react if it sees the country paralyzed and if it does not see a number of clear reforms in relation to the economic, social and political life of the country, ensuring that the Lebanese institutions put the country on the right track, ”Guterres told reporters.

The Lebanese cabinet has not met since mid-October due to a disagreement over the conduct of a national investigation into the massive August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut which left more than 200 dead and thousands of injured. Powerful political groups accuse the judge who heads the investigation of bias and demand his dismissal.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati insists that the investigation is in the hands of justice and refuses to intervene. Mikati himself came to power after a standoff that lasted more than a year as politicians haggled over the distribution of power within the Cabinet.

The Lebanese political system is based on a delicately balanced sectarian power-sharing deal that often holds decision-making hostage to behind-the-scenes deals. The current paralysis has also had an impact on negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a much needed stimulus package.

The international community refused to offer assistance until the Lebanese government implements major reforms. Humanitarian aid has been dispersed to cope with deteriorating living conditions as the government grapples with empty coffers, dwindling foreign exchange reserves and incomes, and an increasingly desperate population.

Guterres called for an independent and impartial investigation into the port explosion, saying people “deserve answers.” Three UN staff lost family members in the blast, including two children.

When asked if he would call for an international investigation, Guterres said that if an impartial and fully independent Lebanese investigation cannot be guaranteed, then “I think it would be important for the international community to act.”

The Lebanese government has previously rejected an international investigation, calling it a waste of resources and time.

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