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French Version

Paris donor conference pushed back to end of January

Summit now to address lebanese debt as well as reconstruction

The international donor conference scheduled to be held in Paris next year on January 15 has been postponed until the end of the month, the Lebanese Finance Minister said at a joint news conference with his French counterpart at the Grand Serail Monday.

Both Jihad Azour and the French finance minister, Jean Francois Coupe, declined to elaborate on the reasons behind the delay, preferring to focus on Lebanon's post-war recovery and the government's adoption of a controversial economic reform package in the lead-up to the international donor summit.

A representative from Premier Fouad Siniora's office said the conference would be held on January 25.

"I don't want to dwell on the date of the conference because we want to take our time to fully examine the situation in Lebanon," Coupe said in response to a reporter's question on why the summit was rescheduled. He refused to specify the summit's new date, and insisted that France was "impressed" with the "political will" of the current administration and its unwavering commitment to restructuring the economy following the devastating July-August war.

When pressed to specifically identify the "impressive" aspects of the the government's conduct, Coupe praised the government's "middle-term and long-term plans and its commitment to meeting deadlines."

Coupe's latest statements are a marked turnaround from those France made earlier this month, when it agreed to host the conference. France had insisted the January summit was to be a continuation of the Stockholm Donor Conference in August, its sole objective to raise funds for Lebanon's post-war reconstruction.

In contrast, Lebanese government officials had labeled the summit Paris III, and were touting it as the long-awaited conference to help pay down the country's bloated public debt.

"This summit is not only about the reconstruction but about restructuring the economy and allowing Lebanon to regain its credibility within the international community," Coupe told reporters on Monday.

"The launching point of reforms should be at the Finance Ministry, which established an economic reform program to improve governments' expenditures and decrease public debt," he said.

"The international community is looking for a mechanism and timetable for a program to be adopted, and wants it to be achieved with transparency."

Azour told reporters that the international community had three goals at Paris III: to show their support for Siniora's administration; to monitor the funds pledged at Stockholm; and to help Lebanon restructure its economy.

"It's not only a donor conference, but it is also a meeting that will allow the international community and Lebanon to improve economic conditions and create job opportunities for the Lebanese youth, and consequently [allow Lebanon] to regain its regional position, as an economic hub par excellence," Azour said.

"If you give us money and the economy still doesn't function, that will lead us nowhere. What is key to the summit is to provide Lebanon with a viable economic reform strategy, and prove that we are not willing to squander the aid."

Azour also attempted to allay public fears about the privatization of state-owned assets, specifically Electricite du Liban and the telecommunications network, insisting that the move would create "tens of thousands" of new employment opportunities.

Beirut 31-10-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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