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Thursday, 14 December 2017

In Saudi visit, Lebanese patriarch backs PM Hariri over resignation

AFP , Tuesday 14 Nov 2017
Beshara Rai
Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri meeting with Lebanon's Christian Maronite patriarch Bechara al-Rahi on November 14, 2017, in the Saudi capital Riyadh (Photo: AFP)
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The head of Lebanon's Maronite church, in a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, voiced support Tuesday for prime minister Saad Hariri over his resignation, which tipped his country into crisis.

Beshara Rai arrived in Riyadh on Monday in the first trip to the kingdom by a senior Lebanese figure since Hariri quit on November 4 in a shock announcement from the Saudi capital.

Hariri had cited fears for his life and accused Hezbollah, the powerful Shia movement that is part of his government but close to Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran, of controlling Lebanon.

"I am convinced by the reasons for his resignation," Rai said. "He will return to Lebanon as soon as possible."

Many observers suspected Riyadh had ordered him to resign, and senior Lebanese politicians have alleged he is under de facto house arrest in the capital.

But in his first tweet in several days on Tuesday, Hariri brushed aside those allegations.

"Everybody, I'm totally fine. God willing, I'll be back in these two days. Let's calm down," he wrote.

He added that his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, calling it "their country".

Rai's trip to Saudi Arabia, though overshadowed by Hariri's resignation, is significant as it symbolises a rare inter-religious exchange in the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom, home to the holiest sites in Islam.

Rai is the top cleric in Lebanon's powerful Maronite community, and is regularly consulted by both Christian and non-Christian political figures as well as receiving foreign dignitaries when they visit the country.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, he met King Salman, powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri 

The patriarch and the king "reviewed fraternal relations between the kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Separately, Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Maronite patriarch's visit "stresses the kingdom's approach for peaceful coexistence, closeness and openness for all sections of Arabic people."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said France was "worried by the situation in Lebanon" and wanted to see the government there "stabilise as quickly as possible".

Le Drian is set to visit Riyadh on Thursday.

France joined Germany on Monday in calling for an end to external interference in Lebanon -- buffeted for decades by conflicts between bigger players in the region such as Iran and Syria.

Last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also warned other countries against using Lebanon for "proxy conflicts", adding that he had no evidence that Hariri was being held against his will in the oil-rich kingdom.

 

*This report was edited by Ahram Online

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