French President Emmanuel Macron was due to head northeast of Beirut on Tuesday to mark Lebanon's centenary by planting a cedar tree, the emblem of the Middle East nation that is collapsing under the weight of a crippling economic crisis.
In his second trip to Lebanon in less than a month, Macron is expected to lean on Lebanon's fractious leaders to carry out economic reforms that are vital to getting the country out of crisis and unlocking foreign aid.
With its economy in deep crisis, a swathe of Beirut in tatters following a huge explosion at the port on Aug. 4, and sectarian tensions rising, Lebanon is facing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at Beirut International airport, Lebanon August 31, 2020. REUTERS
French Air Force jets performed a display over Lebanon's mountainous Jaj village with Lebanon's national colors.
Lebanon's modern borders were proclaimed 100 years ago by France in an imperial carve-up with Britain after the First World War. Lebanon gained independence in 1943.
Center stage in international efforts to press Lebanese leaders to tackle corruption and take other steps to fix their country, Macron began his trip late on Monday by meeting Fairouz, one of the Arab world's most famous singers.
He was greeted by dozens of protesters gathered outside, who held placards reading “No cabinet by, or with, the murderers” and “Don't be on the wrong side of history!”
Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib speaks from the presidential palace, Aug. 31, 2020. (Reuters)
Macron's agenda includes a tour of the devastated Beirut port, the site of the catastrophic Aug. 4 chemicals explosion, meeting President Michel Aoun for an official reception marking the country's centenary, and an afternoon of political meetings with Lebanon's various factions.
After being designated on Monday, Adib called for the rapid formation of a government, the immediate implementation of reforms and an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
Demonstrators take part in protests near the site of the blast at the Beirut's port area, Aug. 11, 2020. (Reuters)