Lebanon ex-minister feels heat in testy Davos debate

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Lebanon's former foreign minister Gebran Bassil was grilled at Davos.

DAVOS, Switzerland — Key Lebanon party leader and former foreign minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday faced accusations over his personal wealth and record at the top of a country mired in corruption, during a hugely uncomfortable appearance at the Davos economic forum.

Bassil, the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, lost his post as foreign minister when a new government was finally announced this week after months of street protests over a collapsing economy.

His appearance at the luxury Swiss resort had caused howls of outrage in Lebanon where thousands signed petitions asking about the financing of his trip at a time when Lebanese are trying to make ends meet.

"How did you get here?", asked the moderator. "Did you take a private plane?"

"I came simply on my own expenses," Bassil replied. "I know rumors and lies circulate always but this is the reality. Not one lira at the expense of the Lebanese treasury!"

"So this is family money?" the moderator pressed. "No this was offered to me. I was invited here," Bassil replied.

"We are not allowed to have friends like that when we are in government," witheringly pointed out Dutch Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag, who previously served as UN coordinator for Lebanon.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, Bassil insisted the protests were not political in nature and he even supported them.

"What is happening in the street is very positive," said Bassil, still seen as a key powerbroker as leader of the Free Patriotic Movement. "They are protesting as they lost their money, they are not united on any political issue."

Opponents of Bassil reacted with glee on social media to his performance. "Watching Gebran Bassil getting roasted is so good," commented one on Twitter.

Bassil, who served half a decade as foreign minister after a similar time as energy minister, has consistently come under fire from demonstrators mobilized to demand the removal of a political class they deem incompetent and corrupt.

"Lebanon is a country that has been stymied by top-level corruption across the board," commented Kaarg.

"The sectarian system, coupled with the former warlords, have hijacked the state," she said. — AFP


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