De­tain­ing Hariri

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS -

Hariri's sit­u­a­tion was not com­pletely clear but calls, in­clud­ing from his Le­banese po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, mounted for Saudi Ara­bia to guar­an­tee the prime min­is­ter's free­dom of move­ment.

The 47-year-old an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion on Novem­ber 4 in a sur­prise move that co­in­cided with a sweep­ing purge of the Saudi king­dom's elite, os­ten­si­bly over em­bez­zle­ment ac­cu­sa­tions.

Hariri, who was born in Saudi Ara­bia, did not say when he would re­turn to Le­banon, where Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun has yet to for­mally ac­cept his res­ig­na­tion.

In a state­ment is­sued on Fri­day after a meet­ing with the Saudi en­voy to Le­banon, Aoun in­sisted Hariri should re­turn to Le­banon but did not elab­o­rate on the premier's cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Riyadh.

“Pres­i­dent Aoun met Saudi charge d'af­faires Walid Bukhari and in­formed him that the cir­cum­stances in which Mr. Hariri's res­ig­na­tion took place were un­ac­cept­able,” the state­ment said.

The pres­i­dent “called for the re­turn to Le­banon of the head of the gov­ern­ment”.

Aoun, whose po­lit­i­cal ally Hezbol­lah is a fierce critic of Saudi Ara­bia, also “voiced his con­cern over what is be­ing said” about Hariri's cur­rent sta­tus in Saudi Ara­bia and de­manded a “clar­i­fi­ca­tion”.

The United States' top diplo­mat, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, de­scribed Hariri as “a strong part­ner” and warned against “any party, within or out­side Le­banon, us­ing Le­banon as a venue for proxy con­flicts or in any man­ner con­tribut­ing to in­sta­bil­ity in that coun­try”.

“The United States strongly sup­ports the sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence of the Re­pub­lic of Le­banon and of its po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions” and op­poses “any ac­tions that could threaten that sta­bil­ity,” he said.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, whose coun­try has close ties with both Le­banon and Saudi Ara­bia, made a sur­prise visit to Riyadh late Thurs­day after a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Macron's for­eign min­is­ter said on French ra­dio Fri­day he thought Hariri was “free to move around”, de­spite most of the Le­banese po­lit­i­cal class im­ply­ing he was de facto un­der house ar­rest.

“He went to Abu Dhabi the day be­fore Pres­i­dent Macron's visit (on Wed­nes­day) so we think he's free to move around,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Nas­ral­lah, whose party is the only or­gan­i­sa­tion that did not dis­arm after the 1975-1990 civil war and now has an arse­nal that out­strips Le­banon's own armed forces, ac­cused Saudi Ara­bia of seek­ing to in­cite con­flict.

“The most dan­ger­ous thing is in­cit­ing Is­rael to strike Le­banon,” the Shi­ite cleric said. “I'm talk­ing about in­for­ma­tion that Saudi Ara­bia has asked Is­rael to strike Le­banon.” Nas­ral­lah, whose move­ment Hariri has re­peat­edly said should lay down its arms, also warned that his move­ment, which fought a dev­as­tat­ing war with Is­rael in 2006, was stronger than ever.

“We are stronger today, we warn them against mis­guided cal­cu­la­tions, against any knee-jerk ini­tia­tive,” he said, ad­ding how­ever that his party saw any Is­raeli at­tack as be­ing un­likely at this stage.

The UN chief, Antonio Guter­res, also said: “It is es­sen­tial that no new con­flict erupt in the re­gion.” “We are in­deed very wor­ried and we hope that we won't see an es­ca­la­tion in the re­gion that would have tragic con­se­quences,” he said.

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