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November 04, 2012

French President Visits Lebanon Amidst Turmoil

by Paige Kollock

French President Francois Hollande has expressed support for Lebanon stability during a Beirut meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.  The  visit came at a time of increased instability in Lebanon and fears of a spillover from the war in Syria. 

Francois Hollande made his first trip to Lebanon as France's president Sunday.  The visit was a short one, touching down for three hours to have breakfast with Suleiman before travelling to Saudi Arabia.

It comes after Lebanon’s “March 14” coalition, which opposes Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs, announced plans to boycott the government and called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign.  The political turmoil follows a car bomb attack which killed a senior Lebanese intelligence official and several other people in Beirut on October 19.

Hollande spoke of the attack during a joint news conference. He says he has come at a decisive moment after the assassination of a wonderful person, Wissam al-Hassan, and says he wants to voice solidarity with the Lebanese people.

The March 14 coalition and its allies accuse the Mikati government of complicity with Syrian authorities in orchestrating the attack.

A top U.S. official, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones, recently visited Lebanon, also calling for stability and dialogue among all Lebanese parties.

Suleiman, who has dismissed calls for Mikati’s resignation and has organized talks between the rival factions, called for unity.

He urges everyone to overcome this incident and work together through dialogue and cooperation to prevent future crises... particularly in light of the tension and bloodshed in neighboring Syria. 

The French president also agreed to help Lebanon deal with an overwhelming number of Syrian refugees, now about 100,000, and promised to help protect Lebanon from the crisis in Syria.