x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hollande says France 'will spare no effort' to back Lebanon

French president pledges support for Lebanon against threats of destabilisation caused by the deadly conflict in neighbouring Syria during visit to Beirut.

French president Francois Hollande, left, told his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Sleiman,  that France will ‘oppose with all its strength any bid to destabilise Lebanon’.
French president Francois Hollande, left, told his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Sleiman, that France will ‘oppose with all its strength any bid to destabilise Lebanon’.

BEIRUT // The French president, Francois Hollande, pledged support for Lebanon against threats of destabilisation caused by the deadly conflict in neighbouring Syria, on a brief visit to Beirut yesterday.

"France will spare no effort to guarantee Lebanon's independence, unity and security," Mr Hollande said after meeting the Lebanese president, Michel Sleiman.

France is determined "to oppose with all its strength any bid to destabilise Lebanon,'' he added.

Mr Hollande was due later to visit Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah about Syria and Iran, before attending an Asia-Europe summit in Laos to discuss trade at a time of economic crisis.

But security issues and politics topped the agenda of his talks with Mr Sleiman in Beirut, at a time when Lebanon has been reeling from the effects of the conflict that has shaken Syria since mid-March last year.

The visit comes two weeks after Lebanon's opposition called on prime minister Najib Mikati, whose cabinet is dominated by powerful Syrian ally Hizbollah, to resign.

The opposition accuses the government of complicity with the regime of the embattled Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, a former power broker in Lebanon which has also been accused of carrying out the 2005 assassination of the former premier Rafiq Hariri. Damascus has denied the charges.

Calls for Mr Mikati to quit were spurred by a massive car bombing in central Beirut last month that killed top security official, Wissam Al Hassan, in an attack the opposition blamed on Syria and its allies in Lebanon.

"It is important to comfort president Sleiman at this time," Mr Hollande said. The Beirut stop was a last-minute decision taken by Mr Hollande to express France's solidarity with Lebanon after the October 19 assassination of Al Hassan, the Internal Security Forces intelligence chief.

The car bombing exacerbated tensions in Lebanon which has seen political and security spillovers from the 19-month conflict in neighbouring Syria.