France's Macron leaves for Lebanon: Presidency
AFP, Thursday 6 Aug 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron left Paris for Lebanon on Thursday on a first visit by a world leader to Beirut after the deadly port blast, the Elysee Palace said.

Macron's plane took off just before 0600 GMT and was scheduled to land in the devastated city at around 0900 GMT where the French president was to meet "all political actors" including President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Macron will seek to rally urgent aid for Lebanon but is also expected to press for overdue reform in France's ex-colony, just two days after the blast -- blamed on an unsecured store of ammonium nitrate at the Beirut port -- killed 137 people, injured 5,000 more and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

"For the president, it's a matter of showing that France is there -- that is its role -- and that he believes in Lebanon," the presidential palace said.

He is scheduled to hold a news conference at 1530 GMT.

"The visit is also an opportunity to lay down the foundations for a pact for the reconstruction of Lebanon, binding for all, that will limit conflicts, offer immediate aid and open up a long-term perspective," the Elysee said.

On Wednesday, France sent three planes to Beirut loaded with rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic.

Two military planes left Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris with 55 search and rescue personnel on board and 25 tonnes of medical supplies.

A third plane, provided by the chief executive of shipping giant CMA-CGM Rodolphe Saade who is of Lebanese origin, took off from Marseille with medical equipment and a nine-strong medical team.