Returning PM attends Lebanon's military parade

AP , Wednesday 22 Nov 2017

Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon's prime minister from Saudi Arabia arrives to attend a military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence in downtown Beirut, Lebanon November 22, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Lebanon is celebrating its Independence Day with a military parade Wednesday attended by the president and the prime minister who returned to Beirut after his shock resignation nearly three weeks ago declared from Saudi Arabia.

The resignation of Saad Hariri prompted a crisis in Lebanon and set off international efforts to prevent the upending of the country's delicate sectarian-based political order.

Hariri declared his resignation on Nov. 4 in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia, in which he said he was protesting meddling in Arab affairs by Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a partner in the coalition government formed by Hariri a year ago.

President Michel Aoun said he would not recognize the resignation until he hears from Hariri in person. Aoun, and many Lebanese, suspected Hariri was forced to resign by his Saudi backers. Aoun accused Riyadh of holding Hariri against his will.

Lebanese are hoping that with Hariri now home, he will clarify the mysterious circumstances surrounding his resignation. Posters have been erected around Beirut and other cities, welcoming Hariri's return.

The resignation pushed Lebanon back to the forefront of an intensifying regional feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which until recently appeared to have a tacit agreement to keep Lebanon out of their race for influence.

His announcement was followed by sharp Saudi rhetoric against Hezbollah, which the kingdom accuses of meddling on Iran's behalf in regional affairs.

Hezbollah has been fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country's six-year civil war, where many of Assad's enemies are rebels backed by Saudi Arabia. The kingdom says Hezbollah is also advising Houthi rebels waging a war against Yemen's Saudi-backed government. Hezbollah denies it is militarily supporting the Houthis.

Hezbollah says Saudi Arabia is sowing instability in Lebanon, and accused the kingdom of partnering with Israel to start a war with Lebanon.

Hariri, in his only in depth interview since announcing his resignation, told his media station Future TV that he could retract his resignation if a deal could be struck with his opponents to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.

At France's invitation, Hariri left Saudi Arabia to Paris on Saturday. He then traveled to Beirut on Tuesday, stopping first in Cairo and Cyprus for visits with the two countries' presidents.

Hariri is expected to first meet with Aoun and the parliament speaker at the military parade. The three are expected to meet privately after, before Hariri meets with his supporters at his residence in the city center.

In Cairo, Hariri said he had a long chat with Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi "about the stability of Lebanon and on the need for us as Lebanese to keep our distance from regional issues."

Lebanon is rife with speculations about what decision Hariri is expected to make: whether to stay in the government, insist on his resignation or make new demands to stay in office in a coalition government.

El-Sissi and French President Emmanuel Macron are reportedly trying to mediate a solution that would involve rolling back Hariri's resignation.

Upon arriving in Beirut, Hariri went straight from the airport to pray at the grave of his father, the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, assassinated in 2005. He then retired to his home in central Beirut.

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