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Macron calls for reforms as Lebanon names new prime minister

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Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron at Beirut International airport, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron at Beirut International airport, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.   -   Copyright  Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP
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French President Emmanuel Macron called for the establishment of a new government quickly in Lebanon during a two-day trip to Beirut.

It's Macron's second visit to the country since the 4 August explosion that damaged nearly half of the capital, killing at least 190 people and injuring thousands.

Just ahead of the French president's visit, Lebanon's ambassador to Germany, Mustapha Adib, was named as the country's new prime minister.

Four former prime ministers had supported the ambassador in a joint statement ahead of consultations between President Michel Aoun and parliamentary groups.

According to the country's power-sharing system, the post of prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim.

Adib has been the country's ambassador to Germany since 2013 and holds a doctorate in law and political science. He was previously an advisor to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The choice "above all reflects the challenge of choosing a Prime Minister who does not belong to the Hariri galaxy," said Aurélie Daher, a researcher at the Paris Dauphine University and specialist in Lebanese politics.

Daher said the choice will likely be unacceptable to protesters who took to the streets in droves to protest government mismanagement.

The Lebanese government resigned after the explosion which was caused by the ignition of improperly stored ammonium nitrate at the city's port.

The French president had led an international donor conference following the explosion and has promoted political and economic reforms in the country.

Macron's second visit since the blast

Some citizens see Macron's second visit to the country as a reason for hope.

Jaylane Nemlich who works in events marketing said that Lebanese people hope Macron helps "the government to assume its responsibilities and guarantee our fundamental rights."

But he will have little leeway to influence the political system, experts say.

"The Lebanese political system as it is enshrined in the Constitution imposes compulsory passages that Mr. Macron cannot bypass," said Daher.

"In reality, this visit is mostly symbolic. Mr. Macron will have tea with a notable Lebanese singer and plant a cedar tree with children. He will encounter a political class which has made little progress since his last visit," she added.

Critics of Macron have said his actions call back to colonialism.

Lebanon was a French protectorate until 1943 and Macron's visit will also coincide with the 100th anniversary of the designation of Greater Lebanon under French mandate on September 1, 1920.

AP Photo/Hussein Malla
Workers repair water tanks and damaged apartments overlooking the site of the Aug. 4 explosion that hit the seaport, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Risk of collapse

France's foreign minister warned last week that the economic and political crisis in Lebanon could cause its collapse.

The catastrophic explosion came amid an economic crisis that many see as resulting from corruption and mismanagement amid the ruling class.

The currency plunged in the past year and more than half of the country's citizens live in poverty, according to a UN report.

Many international donors have called for governmental reforms and supported civil society organisations instead of the government.

"We will not sign a blank check for a government that will not put in place reforms," said French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

"The risk today is the disappearance of Lebanon," he added on RTL radio last week.

Additional sources • AP, Lea Fayad