Paris hails Lebanon vote, sets conditions for aid

20th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 20 (AFP) - France said on Monday it viewed with "satisfaction" the completion of elections in Lebanon, which resulted in a win for an anti-Syrian bloc, but conditioned financial aid to the new government on economic reforms.

PARIS, June 20 (AFP) - France said on Monday it viewed with "satisfaction" the completion of elections in Lebanon, which resulted in a win for an anti-Syrian bloc, but conditioned financial aid to the new government on economic reforms.

"France notes with satisfaction the completion of the electoral process in Lebanon," foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei told journalists.

"We have obviously no judgement to make on the results. However, we see that the whole of the electoral process has been carried out as per the timetable," he said.

The win by Lebanon's main opposition bloc led by Saad Hariri swept all 28 seats up for grabs in the decisive final round of elections on Sunday, giving it an eight-seat majority in parliament, according to a Lebanese official.

His alliance now controls 72 of the 128 seats in parliament against 35 for the pro-Syrian alliance led by Shiite factions Amal and Hezbollah, and 21 for an unlikely alliance between Christian opposition firebrand Michel Aoun and longtime friends of Damascus.

It was the first time in three decades that a grouping opposing Syria's behind-the-scenes control of Lebanon's politics had gained a parliamentary majority.

Mattei said Paris was now "waiting for the next government to be formed."

"We will give it, if it so wishes and at its request, any assistance it thinks useful," he said.

The spokesman added that the vote "can only reinforce our desire to see applied" a UN Security Council resolution drafted by France and the United States calling for an end to Syria's interference in Lebanon. A withdrawal of Syria's troops has already taken place in April.

It also gave impetus to a UN resolution that created an international inquiry into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri, Saad Hariri's father, Mattei said. Many Lebanese suspect Syria's hand in the killing.

A Middle East expert, Antoine Basbous of France's Observatory of Arab Countries, said of the elections that France saw the results opening the way for it to exert some influence over the French-speaking country.

"France would have liked more weight in the camp of Saad Hariri and Walid Joumblatt, but they have a comfortable majority," he said.

Paris "feared Auon because he can appear uncontrollable and it can't pressure him."

France is now preparing to put in place an international plan to aid Lebanon, but it insisted on Monday that the assistance would only be forthcoming "on the basis of (Beirut's) reform programme."

That was a crack of the whip recalling previous accords, dubbed Paris I and Paris II agreed in 2001 and 2002, in which Lebanon reneged on reform pledges it made to international institutions.

A working meeting is to take place June 13 in Paris that will include the French and US ambassadors to Lebanon. That gathering is intended to lay the ground for an international conference after the formation of the new government.

Lebanon currently has a public debt of USD 34 billion (EUR 30 billion), representing 185 percent of its gross domestic product.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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