Lebanese PM Saad Hariri announces return to country as crisis simmers

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Paris | Published: November 19, 2017 6:30:02 AM

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he will return to Lebanon for Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations and explain his situation, after his shock resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia sparked political turmoil.

Lebanese PM, Lebanese PM Saad Hariri, Saad Hariri, Lebanon news, French President Emmanuel Macron, Michel Aoun, Michel Aoun news“As you know I have resigned, and we will discuss that in Lebanon,” he told reporters. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he will return to Lebanon for Wednesday’s Independence Day celebrations and explain his situation, after his shock resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia sparked political turmoil. Speaking after talks in Paris yesterday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking to broker a way out of the crisis, Hariri said he would “make known my position” once back in Beirut.

“As you know I have resigned, and we will discuss that in Lebanon,” he told reporters, saying he needed to meet with President Michel Aoun before taking further steps. Hariri’s announcement follows two weeks of deep uncertainty after his surprise decision to step down on November 4. His failure to return to Lebanon since then sparked rumours that he was being held in Riyadh against his will, which both he and Saudi officials denied.

“To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie,” he said in a Twitter post just before flying to Paris overnight. Hariri’s wife and eldest son Houssam joined him for lunch with Macron at the Elysee Palace, but their two younger children, who live in Saudi Arabia, have remained there “for their school exams”, a source close to the premier said.

After the meeting, Macron’s office said the president will “continue to take all necessary initiatives for Lebanon’s stability.” “We are helping to ease tensions in the region,” the Elysee Palace added, without saying if Hariri had confirmed his resignation to Macron. The French president telephoned his counterparts in the US and Egypt, Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss “the situation in the Middle East”.

Paris, which held mandate power over Lebanon for the first half of the 20th century, plans to bring together international support for Lebanon, depending on how the situation develops. Hariri’s mysterious decision to step down — which Aoun has refused to accept while Hariri remains abroad — has raised fears over Lebanon’s fragile democracy. Hariri’s camp has sought to allay the concerns, with a source saying the premier had a “fruitful and constructive” meeting with the powerful Saudi crown prince. Hariri, a dual Saudi citizen who has previously enjoyed Riyadh’s backing, resigned saying he feared for his life.

He accused Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran and its powerful Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising his country. Hariri’s resignation was widely seen as an escalation of the battle for influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. His attempt to step down also coincides with a purge of more than 200 Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen.

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