Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil blamed Lebanon’s ramshackle economy on Syrian refugees Monday, in statements that former MP Walid Joumblatt called “cheap” and “racist.”
Bassil said the “economic situation in Lebanon is about to deteriorate due to the presence of large numbers of Syrian refugees” and called for a solution to the crisis.
His remarks came during a joint news conference with Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch foreign trade and development cooperation minister.
The Free Patriotic Movement leader said Syrian refugees are “themselves demanding the acceleration of their return [to Syria].” He added that Lebanon is “determined” to fight any policy of resettling refugees on its own soil.
Shortly after, Joumblatt took to Twitter in an apparent response to Bassil. “Enough fooling the people that the Lebanese economy is on the verge of collapse as a result of the Syrians. Stop that cheap, racist [talk],” Joumblatt tweeted.
The Progressive Socialist Party leader also took the opportunity to hit out at the Free Patriotic Movement’s electricity plan. “Stop the Turkish power barges, which are the central cause for the deficit in the budget,” Joumblatt said.
The FPM has proposed leasing two more barges from the Turkish company Karadeniz in a move that has been invalidated by the Tenders Department three times.
Kaag, on her first visit to Lebanon in her new ministerial role, met with Bassil and with the country’s top three leaders.
She said the Netherlands would “try its best to do more to help Lebanon in the [refugee crisis].”
She also said that the Netherlands is looking for ways to improve cooperation with Lebanon in various fields, in addition to aiming to strengthen and invest in the Lebanese economy.
“You have a close friend in the Netherlands,” Kaag told Bassil.
Earlier in the day, she met with President Michel Aoun and expressed her delight to be back in Beirut, having previously served as U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon.
She congratulated Aoun on the success of the May 6 parliamentary elections and the ongoing government formation efforts.
Aoun in turn affirmed that Lebanon’s next government would focus on foreign trade and combating corruption, according to a statement from his office.
He thanked the Netherlands for its participation in international conferences that have been held in support of Lebanon and also for the country’s willingness to host a summit to follow up on donor pledges made at April’s CEDRE conference, also known as Paris IV.
The Netherlands pledged 200 million euros ($245 million) worth of aid in soft loans and 100 million euros for reforms.
Separately, Kaag voiced her country’s interest in investments in Lebanese agriculture, during a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, a statement from his office read.
She said technological development and aid to Syrian refugees were also among her country’s key interests in Lebanon.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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