Hariri announces return to Lebanon

PARIS: 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 on Saturday 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 said 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.
“Hariri does not want to mix his children up in this affair,” the source said.
His 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 Mohammed Bin Salman before leaving.
Hariri, a dual Saudi citizen, resigned saying he feared for his life.
Hariri met French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Riyadh on Thursday as Paris, which held mandate power over Lebanon for the first half of the 20th century, seeks to ease the crisis.
In another development, Riyadh on Saturday recalled its ambassador to Berlin in protest at comments by Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
Ahead of Hariri’s departure, Aoun welcomed the trip to Paris, expressing hope that it was the “start of a solution”.
“If Mr Hariri speaks from France, I would consider that he speaks freely,” Aoun said.
“But his resignation must be presented in Lebanon, and he will have to remain there until the formation of the new government.”
France’s intervention was the latest in a string of European efforts to defuse tensions over Lebanon. — AFP