Le­banese peo­ple miss­ing their leader

Le­banon PM says he will re­turn to his coun­try soon

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - WORLD NEWS - SARAH EL DEEB

BEIRUT — Le­banon’s Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri said Sun­day he will re­turn to his coun­try “very soon” amid a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that erupted when he an­nounced his sud­den res­ig­na­tion on Nov. 4 in Saudi Ara­bia.

In a live in­ter­view shown on his Fu­ture TV, Hariri said he had re­signed to pro­tect Le­banon from im­mi­nent dan­ger, al­though he didn’t spec­ify who was threat­en­ing the coun­try.

“I am free,” Hariri told the in­ter­viewer, ap­par­ently seek­ing to show he was not be­ing de­tained by the Saudis. He said he would re­turn to Le­banon “in days.”

He spoke af­ter pres­sure from Le­banese of­fi­cials, who said his res­ig­na­tion was not ac­cepted be­cause it was de­clared in Saudi Ara­bia.

Many Le­banese have sus­pected Hariri was placed un­der house ar­rest as part of a Saudi plan to un­ravel a coali­tion gov­ern­ment he had formed last year with the Iran-backed mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah.

But he said his res­ig­na­tion was his de­ci­sion, dis­miss­ing re­ports he was forced to quit a unity gov­ern­ment with Hezbol­lah.

His res­ig­na­tion was de­signed to “cause a pos­i­tive shock” in Le­banon, Hariri said, warn­ing against what he said was Ira­nian in­ter­fer­ence that is ruin­ing re­la­tions with other Arab coun­tries.

Le­banon Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun said be­fore the in­ter­view that the “mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances for Hariri’s stay in the Saudi cap­i­tal of Ri­aydh makes all his po­si­tions ques­tion­able and in doubt and not of his own vo­li­tion.”

A dual Le­banese-Saudi na­tional, the Saudi-al­lied Hariri un­ex­pect­edly an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion on Nov. 4 in a pre-recorded mes­sage on Saudi TV, crit­i­ciz­ing Iran and Hezbol­lah, and say­ing he feared for his safety. His fa­ther, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. Hariri’s fam­ily lives in Riyadh.

Hariri had not been heard from since but met with for­eign diplo­mats, and ap­peared with Saudi roy­alty and in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Ara­bia has stepped up its rhetoric against Hezbol­lah and its pa­tron, Iran, ac­cus­ing both of sup­port­ing Shi’ite rebels in Ye­men known as Houthis. A Saudi-led coali­tion has been at war with the Houthis since March 2015.

Saudi Ara­bia has asked its cit­i­zens to leave Le­banon, and many Le­banese fear fur­ther eco­nomic sanc­tions or even mil­i­tary ac­tion against their coun­try.

Ear­lier Sun­day, thou­sands of peo­ple at­tend­ing Le­banon’s an­nual marathon used the event to urge Hariri to re­turn home.

Hariri was a reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pant in the marathon, giv­ing the in­ter­na­tional sports event a big boost. This year, Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun en­cour­aged run­ners to call on Hariri to re­turn. Or­ga­niz­ers say more than 47,000 par­tic­i­pated in the marathon.

Spec­ta­tors along the marathon course wore hats and held signs read­ing “Run­ning for you” and “Wait­ing for you.” Large bill­boards with pic­tures of Hariri rose over­head, and a lo­cal TV sta­tion showed an hour-long pro­file and in­ter­view with Hariri from last year.

One woman raised a plac­ard read­ing: “We want our prime min­is­ter back.”

Ibrahim al-Masri, a 37-year-old Hariri sup­porter, said the Le­banese didn’t know if it was Hariri’s choice to stay in Saudi Ara­bia.

“What­ever he chooses, we are with him. We want him to first come to Le­banon. We will die for him,” al-Masri said.

Joanne Hamza, a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teacher who wore a cap with a pic­ture of Hariri on it, said he was missed at the race.

“But ina sense, his ab­sence has been uni­fy­ing. All Le­banese, from all sects, are miss­ing their leader. This is some­how re­as­sur­ing but we still want him with us.”

In the north­ern city of Tripoli on Satur­day, un­known as­sailants burned posters of Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man in a sign of the ris­ing ten­sions. In­te­rior Min­is­ter No­had Mach­nouk tweeted that those acts did not re­flect the “true feel­ings” of the peo­ple of Tripoli or Le­banon, and called for the per­pe­tra­tors to be brought to jus­tice.

HAS­SAN AMMAR/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Le­banese women hold plac­ards sup­port­ing the out­go­ing Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri to re­turn from Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing the Beirut Marathon in Beirut, Le­banon, on Sun­day.

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