French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday promised aid to blast-stricken Lebanon but reassured angry citizens reeling from a lethal explosion that killed 145 people that no blank cheques will be given to its leaders unless they enact reforms, Reuters reports.
Speaking at a news conference at the end of a dramatic visit to Beirut, Macron called for an international inquiry into the devastating explosion that generated a seismic shock felt across the region, saying it was an urgent signal to carry out anti-corruption reforms demanded by a furious population.
Dozens are still missing after Tuesday's explosion at the port that injured 5,000 people and left up to 250,000 without habitable homes, hammering a nation already staggering from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases.
A security source said the death toll had reached 145, and officials said the figure was likely to rise.
Macron, paying the first visit by a foreign leader since the explosion, promised to help organise international aid. But he said a fully transparent international investigation into the blast was needed, and that the Lebanese government must implement economic reforms and curb corruption.
"If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink," Macron said after being met at the airport by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. "What is also needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era."
He told reporters later in Beirut that an audit was needed on the Lebanese central bank, among other urgent changes, and that the World Bank and United Nations would play a role in any Lebanese reforms.
"If there is no audit of the central bank, in a few months there will be no more imports and then there will be lack of fuel and of food," said Macron.
Earlier, wearing a black tie in mourning, Macron toured the blast site and Beirut's shattered streets where angry crowds demanded an end to a "regime" of Lebanese politicians they blame for corruption and dragging Lebanon into disaster.
"I guarantee you, this (reconstruction) aid will not go to corrupt hands," Macron told the throngs who greeted him.
"I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain. This is why I'm here," he told one group, pledging to deliver "home truths" to Lebanon's leaders.
He told reporters later at the French ambassador's residence, where a French general declared the creation of the state of Lebanon exactly 100 years ago, Macron said it was no longer up to France to tell Lebanese leaders what to do.
But he said he could apply "pressure", adding: "This morning, many people told me, 'Bring back the mandate'. In a way you are asking me to be the guarantor of the emergence of a democratic revolution," he said.
"But a revolution cannot be invited, the people will decide. Do not ask France to not respect your sovereignty."