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Thu 23 Jul 2020 10:50 AM

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France's top diplomat visits crisis-hit Lebanon

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, marked by a steep currency fall and runaway inflation that have plunged nearly half of the population into poverty

France's top diplomat visits crisis-hit Lebanon

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

France's top diplomat was on a two-day visit to Lebanon Thursday in the first such trip in recent months by a high-ranking foreign politician to the crisis-hit country hoping for an international bailout.

Jean-Yves Le Drian was set to meet President Michel Aoun at 0630 GMT, followed by meetings with Prime Minister Hassan Diab and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, the French embassy said.

A statement to the press is expected in the afternoon after he meets his Lebanese counterpart, Nassif Hitti.

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, marked by a steep currency fall and runaway inflation that have plunged nearly half of the population into poverty.

The crisis has sparked mass protests since October against a political class accused of being incompetent and corrupt, and seen tens of thousands lose their jobs or part of their income.

After the country defaulted for the first time in March, the government pledged reforms and two months ago started talks with the International Monetary Fund towards unlocking billions of dollars in aid, but discussions are stalling.

Earlier this month, Le Drian said he was "very worried" by the lack of progress on reforms demanded before foreign financial assistance would be forthcoming.

"Help us help you," he urged.

Lebanon's government says it needs more than $20 billion in external funding, which includes $11 billion pledged by donors at a Paris conference in 2018 never delivered over lack of reforms.

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