By LUJAIN JO, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday that the international community had not done enough to support Lebanon, which is grappling with a severe economic crisis and sheltering more than a million Syrian refugees . The UN chief called for more support at the start of a three-day visit to the small Mediterranean country.
Guterres arrived on Sunday morning for the high-profile visit and spoke after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
At the start of his visit, Guterres said the visit will focus on supporting the people of the crisis-stricken country. But he urged political leaders to overcome their differences to find ways to resolve the crisis.
International donors, including traditional supporters of Lebanon, have extended humanitarian aid to the country to deal with the crisis, but have refused to offer their support to the government until a reform plan is agreed.
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The Lebanese are facing a worsening economic crisis that began in late 2019 and is rooted in years of mismanagement and corruption. The crisis, including a severe collapse of the national currency and worsening poverty, has since been only worsened by the pandemic, feuds between rival political groups and a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 that left behind. killed more than 216 and injured thousands. He also destroyed large parts of the capital.
“I think that the international community has not done enough to support Lebanon (…) and other countries in the world which have opened their borders, their doors and their hearts to refugees when, unfortunately, some very richer and much more powerful are closing their borders, âGuterres said. , addressing the press as he stood next to Aoun.
He said a UN emergency response plan is only 11% funded, calling for more support.
Lebanon’s population of 6 million includes over one million Syrian refugees. “If there is one word to characterize my visit, that word is solidarity,” he said.
The Lebanese crisis has been exacerbated by a deeply divided political leadership on key issues leading to paralysis of the government and parliament. Divisions have delayed reforms and negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a stimulus package.
Guterres said he is urging politicians across the country to work together to resolve this crisis.
“Seeing the suffering of the Lebanese people, the Lebanese political leaders do not have the right to be divided and to paralyze the country”, he declared, calling Aoun a symbol of unity.
Politicians are also divided over the national investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut. Guterres plans to visit the port to pay tribute to those killed in the blast and meet the families of the victims.
The economic collapse in Lebanon has been described as one of the worst in the world for over 150 years. Inflation and commodity prices have skyrocketed in Lebanon, which imports more than 80% of its commodities.
Shortages of basic supplies, including fuel and medicine, and restrictions on bank withdrawals and transfers, especially in foreign currencies, have heightened the desperation of the Lebanese in this once-middle-class country.
Guterres also stressed that next year’s elections will be essential in laying the foundations for a better future. “Next year’s elections will be decisive,” he added.
Politicians disagree on the date and details of the elections, expected next spring. A decision by the country’s constitutional council is expected to settle the dispute.
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