Champagne pushes reform in Beirut meeting with Lebanese president

Champagne pushes reform in Beirut meeting with Lebanese president
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OTTAWA — Canada’s foreign minister pushed for Lebanon’s president to pursue economic and political reforms as he expressed Canadian solidarity with the embattled Lebanese people.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met face-to-face today with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Beirut, before taking a close-up look at the burned-out hulk of the city’s decimated port.

Champagne marked the meeting with Aoun with a Twitter post that affirmed Canada’s solidarity with the people of Lebanon who have been demanding change since the devastating Aug. 4 explosion that killed 200 people, injured 6,000 and flattened districts of Beirut.

Lebanese people have taken to the streets demanding an independent investigation into the explosion and to protest widespread corruption in their country.

Earlier this week, Champagne told The Canadian Press that Canada was willing to commit the RCMP to work alongside French national police and the FBI in an independent investigation of the explosion.

And Champagne said he would be telling Aoun that any law-enforcement help from Canada would have some very important strings attached — it would have to be credible, transparent and thorough.

“I just finished my meeting with (Aoun),” Champagne tweeted.

“I reaffirmed Canada’s solidarity with the people of Lebanon. We spoke about the path forward & the reforms necessary for Lebanon’s sustainable recovery.”

The meeting was the centrepiece of a four-country trip this week that has seen Champagne literally bust the bubble of COVID-19 video diplomacy. He has travelled to Switzerland and Italy, where he also met his Chinese counterpart and pressed for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The two Canadian men have been imprisoned in China since December 2018 in what is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant.

Champagne’s meeting with Wang Yi came as the two ministers were crossing paths on separate European trips.

While winning the release of Kovrig and Spavor remains Champagne’s top priority, the explosion in Lebanon, which exacerbated a simmering political crisis, is also galvanizing the minister for a very real domestic political reason — the 200,000-strong Lebanese community in Canada has also been loudly calling for change in their homeland.

Champagne posted a video on Twitter from the scene of the explosion after his meeting with Aoun.

“You can smell destruction. You can feel destruction, you can see also the resilience of the Lebanese people,” the minister said, against a vast backdrop of brown and grey ruin.

“We have said we will be there for Lebanon and I can assure you what you’re seeing is only part of the destruction. You cannot even see with your own eyes the size of that destruction.”

Champagne’s trip ends in London where he will meet in person with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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