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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Lebanon president hails PM's pledge to return home 'soon'

AFP , Monday 13 Nov 2017
Michel Aoun
File Photo: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun (Reuters)
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Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Monday he was happy to hear resigned prime minister Saad Hariri would be returning to Beirut from Saudi Arabia "soon."

Hariri stepped down from his post during a televised address more than a week ago from Riyadh and has remained there, sparking rumours he was under de facto house arrest.

But he pledged during a television interview on Sunday night that he would be home within days, a development welcomed by Aoun.

"I was happy with Prime Minister Hariri's announcement that he would return to Lebanon soon," Aoun said on Twitter.

"I am awaiting this return to discuss with the prime minister the issue of the resignation, the reasons for it and the circumstances, issues, and concerns that need to be resolved," he added in an emailed statement.

Aoun had said on Sunday that Hariri appeared to be "restricted" in his movements and demanded Riyadh clarify why he had not returned to Beirut.

In Sunday's interview with his party's Future TV, Hariri, 47, said he was free to travel and would return to Lebanon in "two or three days".

"I will return to Lebanon very soon to initiate the necessary constitutional procedures," he said with reference to his resignation.

Lebanese fear that a new power vacuum in their country could put it in the crosshairs of rising regional tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

And France's Foreign Minister on Monday said his country was "worried by the situation in Lebanon" and wanted to see the government there "stabilise as quickly as possible".

A fragile balance has ruled over Lebanon since a complex political deal a year ago brought Aoun to the presidency and Hariri to the premiership.

"It will still be possible to save this political settlement if the government truly and practically commits to the disassociation policy," said Samir Geagea, a Christian ally of Hariri, on Monday.

"Especially when it comes to Hezbollah's withdrawal from Syria and the crises of the region," Geagea wrote on Twitter.

The "disassociation policy" refers to an agreement among political factions that Lebanon would not get involved in regional conflicts.

Hariri has blasted Iran and its Shia ally Hezbollah -- an ally of Aoun and a member of the Lebanese government -- for intervening militarily in Syria and Yemen.

He said he could walk back from his resignation if Lebanese factions seriously committed to keeping out of these conflicts.

Aoun -- who has yet to formally accept the premier's resignation -- said on Monday he "acknowledged" Hariri's comments on reversing the decision.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry categorically denied interfering in Lebanon's politics.

"Lebanon's internal affairs concern Lebanon, and we never intervene in the internal affairs of other countries," Bahram Ghassemi said.

"Hariri's resignation was sudden and suspect, but we hope that with his interview last night, he will return to Lebanon as soon as possible so that the legal process of his resignation can be applied," he added, in quotes reported by state media.

Hariri was still in Riyadh on Monday, where he met with the German and British ambassadors to the kingdom.

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