Paris conference raises over $11 billion to help Lebanon

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, is welcomed by France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian before the international CEDRE conference in Paris Friday, April 6, 2018.France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (Eric Feferberg, Pool via AP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, listens to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian during an international conference in Paris,, Friday, April 6, 2018. France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrives for an international conference in Paris, Friday, April 6, 2018. France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, this left, listens to French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, center, during an international conference in Paris, Friday, April 6, 2018. France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, is welcomed by France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian before the international CEDRE conference in Paris Friday, April 6, 2018.France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (Eric Feferberg, Pool via AP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, and French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian attend an international conference in Paris, Friday, April 6, 2018. France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, and French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian attend an international conference in Paris, Friday, April 6, 2018. France is holding an international conference devoted to debt-ridden Lebanon to bring in funds and lay groundwork to ensure money is well spent. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS — International donors pledged $11 billion in loans and grants Friday to help debt-ridden Lebanon at a conference in Paris that also sought to ensure the money is well spent in a country hit hard by the Syrian war next door.

French President Emmanuel Macron praised the international community's "unprecedented mobilization" for Lebanon as crucial for building the conditions for a sustainable peace in the Middle East.

"At a time when the Levant probably lives one of the worst moments of its history ... it's more important than ever to preserve the most precious asset: a peaceful, diverse and harmonious Lebanon," Macron said.

In total, donors committed $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in gifts, France's ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher said on Twitter.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri outlined his country's grim situation, saying his nation's stability is at stake.

"It is not the stability of Lebanon alone. This is the stability of the region and, therefore, of our world," Hariri said, warning that a collapse in Lebanon could ricochet throughout the Middle East and Europe.

Fears of economic collapse in Lebanon are mounting ahead of next month's parliamentary election, the first in nine years.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that France would provide 400 million euros ($489.3 million) in loans below market rates and would gift Lebanon another 150 million euros ($183.5 million).

The European Union also contributed 150 million euros in loans.

The meeting was not a classic donors' conference, but meant to seek an investment plan around infrastructure, water and energy, delineate structural reforms, and mobilize the private sector, French officials have said.

Hariri, pointing out the impact of seven years of war in Syria, said that growth in Lebanon has dived from 8 percent to barely 1 percent.

Syria's war has hindered land exports to Jordan, Iraq and oil-rich Gulf Arab countries. Lebanon is also hosting 1.2 million refugees — accounting for nearly a quarter of the country's population.

Rampant corruption has taken another kind of toll, hollowing out infrastructure and basic services, with frequent water and electricity cutoffs.

Last week, Lebanon's parliament approved a budget — its second since 2005 — with a fiscal deficit of $4.8 billion. The national debt at the end of 2017 stood at $80 billion, or more than 150 percent of gross domestic product.

France has deep ties to Lebanon, a former protectorate.

Another conference on April 25 in Brussels will aim to help Lebanon better cope with Syrian refugees.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to the story.

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