Saudi envoy urges Lebanon to form government quickly to end financial crisis

3 minute read

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 23, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

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BEIRUT, March 23 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Beirut urged Lebanese politicians on Tuesday to agree on a new government quickly to pull the country from financial crisis after months of wrangling.

A standoff grew heated this week between President Michel Aoun and Saad al-Hariri, who was designated prime minister last October, as the crisis spirals. The currency has lost most of its value, fuelling protests and poverty.

Foreign donors have said they will not bail out the state, which is drowning in debt, unless Lebanese politicians tackle graft and waste - the root causes of the collapse.

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"I stressed the need to put the higher national interest first to launch drastic reforms that can restore the international community's confidence in Lebanon," Saudi ambassador Walid Bukhari said after meeting Aoun.

In his first public visit to the presidential palace since 2019, he said he came after a request from the Lebanese president.

Gulf Arab monarchies that once came to Lebanon's rescue have kept their distance, alarmed by the expanding role of Shi'ite Hezbollah, which is backed by their arch-rival, Iran.

Lebanon saw a flurry of diplomatic meetings on Tuesday, a day after a public war of words between Aoun and Hariri, a three-time premier traditionally aligned with the Gulf. read more

A group of Sunni ex-PMs in Hariri's camp accused Aoun of trying to bypass the constitution and push Hariri out.

The presidency said earlier Aoun met with the French ambassador over "the government crisis", while Hariri's office said he met with the Kuwaiti envoy.

A French diplomat said last week that France, which has led aid efforts to its former colony, and partners will seek to ramp up pressure on Lebanese politicians in the coming months.

After Tuesday's meeting with Aoun, who is a political ally of Hezbollah, the Saudi envoy said the kingdom stood by Lebanon and its sovereignty.

Bukhari also reiterated the importance of a U.N. resolution that called for all militias in Lebanon to disarm, in a reference to Hezbollah's arsenal.

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Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Alex Richardson

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