France's Macron urges Lebanon to push ahead with reforms, swift IMF talks

PARIS, Sept 24 (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron urged Beirut on Friday to implement urgent reform measures and push ahead with International Monetary Fund (IMF) talks, adding that France would continue to support Lebanon.

Macron made his comments after meeting Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is on his first foreign trip after successfully forming a government earlier this month.

"With you and your ministers, we have an opportunity to really push ahead on the reforms path," Macron said during a news conference held after the meeting.

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"Lebanon should also start the vital negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, that should be completed quite quickly," he said.

Lebanon is battling an economic meltdown which the World Bank has called one of the deepest depressions of modern history. Three-quarters of its population have been propelled into poverty and its local currency has lost 90% of its value in the past two years.

The Mikati government was formed after a year of political deadlock that has further compounded the financial crisis.

France has been leading international efforts to lift its former colony out of crisis.

Macron visited Beirut more than once, raised emergency aid and imposed travel bans on some senior Lebanese officials in his quest for a reform package.

Lebanon's financial system collapsed in 2019 because of decades of corruption and waste in the state and the unsustainable way it was financed.

Talks with the IMF stalled last summer after many of Lebanon's main political players turned against a financial recovery plan drawn up by the previous government.

Reforms, particularly of the financial and banking sector, are seen as necessary preconditions for a resumption of IMF talks and the subsequent unlocking of foreign aid.

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Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; additional reporting by Anait Miridzhanian; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Alison Williams and Hugh Lawson

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