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UN chief urges Lebanon’s leaders to put people first and reform

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday urged Lebanese leaders to put people first and implement reforms to rescue the country from a financial depression and its worst social crisis in 30 years.

Guterres met President Michel Aoun at the start of a four day visit for talks with politicians, civic leaders and humanitarian workers on how the world body can help the country overcome mounting problems.

“It is essential for leaders to put the people first, and implement the reforms needed to set Lebanon back on track, including efforts to promote accountability and transparency, and root out corruption,” he said in a video message ahead of the visit. He repeated the message after his arrival.

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In a country fractured along sectarian lines, successive governments made up of nearly all Lebanon’s main parties have repeatedly failed to implement the reforms needed to fix the national finances.

Foreign donors have long pressured politicians to enact the changes, long promised but never delivered because of vested interests, before they release funds.

UN agencies have warned of a dramatic deterioration in living conditions, and Guterres said he was deeply concerned about hardships faced by ordinary Lebanese.

Guterres echoed a call by many Lebanese activists and politicians to hold accountable those responsible for a huge chemical blast at Beirut port last year that killed 200 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.

“I know the Lebanese people want answers, and I hear your demands for truth and justice,” the UN chief said.

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