Diplomats in Paris discuss aid for battered Lebanese economy

International donors and supporters of Lebanon are meeting in France to consider measures to help the small Mediterranean country

PARIS -- Diplomats were meeting behind closed doors in Paris on Wednesday to consider measures to help Lebanon as it grapples with ongoing political turmoil and its worst economic crisis in decades.

The international group, co-chaired by France and the United Nations, is weighing conditions for providing financial aid to Lebanon. Lebanese businesses and households are growing increasingly desperate as cash supplies there have dwindled.

For two months, protests have decried government mismanagement and the current political system. But even as the financial crisis deepens, protesters have denounced the Paris meeting and promised to condemn any international financial assistance to a government they see as corrupt and illegitimate.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Oct. 29, but he has stayed on as caretaker prime minister since politicians have been unable to form a new government. Protesters want to see a non-sectarian, technocratic government — and they want all traces of the old regime, including Hariri, out of office.

France and the U.S. have made clear they support a new government in Lebanon.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that “the responsibility lies with the Lebanese people” to push for a new political order. He said the U.S. is ready to “do the things that the world can do to assist the Lebanese people getting their economy right and getting their government right.”

The U.S. has escalated its sanctions on the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group, which dominates the national unity government that Hariri headed.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a press conference ahead of the Paris meeting that Lebanese authorities must “take into account the call of the street.” He urged Lebanese authorities to “form a government rapidly because any delay will aggravate the situation.”

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters in Beirut and Paris rallied Wednesday to call on the leaders meeting in France not to give financial assistance until a new government comes together.

“This authority ... no longer represents the Lebanese,” said a protester in Beirut reading a letter to be delivered to the French ambassador. Calling the current government corrupt, the protester said: “We don’t want (that aid) to go to waste.”

Hariri has called on Saudi Arabia, France, Turkey, the United States, China, and Egypt to send funds to help Lebanon finance imports.

But international donors are unlikely to write a check without substantial commitments to reform. More than 50 countries pledged last year to give Lebanon $11 million in aid, conditioned on Hariri implementing long-stalled reforms. Promised reforms never materialized.

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Associated Press writer Matt Lee contributed to this report from Washington