BEIRUT (AP) — It was one of the most powerful moments of Emmanuel Macron’s lightning visit to devastated Beirut: confronted by a distraught woman in a sea of enraged residents, the French leader stopped and offered her a hug.
On a tour of the destruction, Macron got a first-hand glimpse of the public fury toward the Lebanese leadership, who are widely blamed for corruption and neglect that allowed 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate to ignite in a massive blast that killed more than 130 people and left tens of thousands homeless.
A large crowd gathered around Macron and began chanting anti-government slogans.
“You are sitting with warlords. They have been manipulating us for the past year,” shouted the woman, wearing a mask.
Macron, also wearing a mask, assured her he understood her concerns. “I’m not here to help them. I’m here to help you,” he said.
The crowd cheered as moments later, Macron comforted the woman with a warm embrace.
The gesture was characteristic of Macron, who is known at home for engaging the public and even giving strangers handshakes and polite kisses on the cheek.
France once governed Lebanon as a protectorate and maintains close ties with the tiny Mideast country. During his visit, Macron promised the crowd he would speak to Lebanon’s political leaders and vowed to protect against corruption as aid money is delivered.