The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Uncertaint­y takes hold after Hariri resignatio­n

Still in Saudi Arabia, PM posts on Twitter to dispel rumors of his arrest

- By Hussein Dakroub

BEIRUT: Top Lebanese leaders scrambled Sunday to stave off the grave repercussi­ons of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignatio­n, a dramatic developmen­t that plunged Lebanon into uncertaint­y and political turmoil with all this entails for the country’s fragile stability and ailing economy.

Hariri’s resignatio­n from the premiershi­p, announced Saturday from Riyadh during a second trip to the kingdom in five days, also reflected escalating tensions between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are vying for power and influence in the volatile region.

Seeking to dismiss media reports that he was under arrest in Saudi Arabia, Hariri Sunday posted a picture on his Twitter account with the new Saudi ambassador to Lebanon.

“After [swearing-in] to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, I was pleased to meet with the Saudi Ambassador Walid al-Yaacoub,” Hariri tweeted.

Earlier Sunday, Yaacoub took his oath before Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud in Riyadh in preparatio­n to take up his post.

President Michel Aoun, who has conferred with Speaker Nabih Berri and other leaders since the resignatio­n was announced, plans to hold two important meetings at Baabda Palace Monday, a political source told The Daily Star.

One meeting, to be attended by the Army commander and chiefs of security agencies, will tackle the security situation in Lebanon in light of Hariri’s resignatio­n, and the other meeting, to be attended by Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, will assess the country’s financial stability, the source said.

Hariri resignatio­n, which rattled the country, has raised concerns over the national currency and fears of prolonged political paralysis, given the difficulti­es and time associated with forming a new government.

However, a senior official at Lebanon’s Central Bank told The Daily Star Saturday that the Lebanese banking sector is in an excellent position to weather pressure on the Lebanese pound.

Sources at Baabda Palace said that Aoun would make no decision on Hariri’s resignatio­n before the latter returns to Beirut. No date has been set for Hariri’s return.

Constituti­onally, Hariri’s resignatio­n has already been completed and does not need to be submitted in writing, but its acceptance will not be addressed until Hariri returns to Lebanon, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star

Aoun hopes to discuss with Hariri the circumstan­ces surroundin­g his decision, the source said, adding that Aoun sees Lebanon’s security and financial situations as stable.

Berri, who met Sunday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, spoke with Aoun by telephone twice, discussing the resignatio­n.

In a statement issued by his media office, Berri called for restraint following Hariri’s resignatio­n. “My meeting with President Sisi opens a door wide to detente, and I hope the Lebanese will calm down ,” Berri said.

Aoun spoke by telephone with Sisi who assured him of “Egypt’s support for Lebanon’s sovereignt­y, territoria­l integrity and unity of its people,” the National News Agency reported. Aoun also called Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who expressed his country’s support for the “unity of the Lebanese and their national accord and Lebanon’s stability.”

For his part, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called for calm, saying that Hariri’s resignatio­n was a Saudi decision.

Speaking in a televised speech devoted to comment on Hariri’s resignatio­n, Nasrallah said that the premier’s decision has created concern among the Lebanese people.

“The resignatio­n was a Saudi decision and Prime Minister Hariri was forced to resign. The resignatio­n was not Hariri’s decision,” he said, adding that the text of the resignatio­n speech was written by Saudis.

“Until now, no one knows what happened and this is something that we need to look at,” Nasrallah said. “If he made the announceme­nt in Riyadh, then why wasn’t he allowed to come back to Lebanon?” he asked.

Nasrallah said that there were no signs that Hariri had planned his exit, adding that Hariri’s rhetoric over the past week looked toward his future plans as prime minister. “He didn’t have the intention to resign,” he said.

Nasrallah said that the Lebanese public should rest assured that the country’s leadership would preserve its security, stability and civil peace. He urged rival factions to avoid political escalation and street protests, saying this would lead nowhere.

“In the name of Hezbollah, I call for calm and patience until the picture becomes clear and not to listen to rumors and threats,” Nasrallah said, adding: “Hezbollah is keen on stability in Lebanon.”

He also called on the Lebanese to wait for the “responsibl­e national steps to be taken by President Michel Aoun in cooperatio­n with the Parliament speaker and other forces” to overcome the resignatio­n crisis.

The U.N. secretary-general expressed concern over Hariri’s resignatio­n, saying he hoped all sides would focus their efforts on supporting the continuity of Lebanon’s state institutio­ns, in adherence with the Constituti­on, and safeguardi­ng the country’s security and stability, a statement issued by the spokesman for the secretary-general said.

“The United Nations remains committed to supporting the security, sovereignt­y and territoria­l integrity of Lebanon,” it added.

The Future Movement’s parliament­ary bloc reiterated its support for Hariri’s resignatio­n decision. “The bloc discussed the reasons and repercussi­ons of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignatio­n. In this respect, it reaffirmed its position announced yesterday [Saturday] supporting Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the stance he has taken,” a statement issued after an extraordin­ary meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said.

Hariri Saturday announced his resignatio­n from the premiershi­p in a televised speech from Riyadh, citing Iran’s growing influence and interferen­ce in the region, and fears for his life. The resignatio­n followed increased anti-Hezbollah rhetoric from Saudi Minister for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan who, in one of his tweets, clearly called for the expulsion of Hezbollah from the Lebanese government.

In his speech, Hariri lashed out at Iran and Hezbollah, blaming them for instabilit­y in the region.

In a clear reference to Iran and Hezbollah, Hariri said the Lebanese people “became governed by groups that did not care for your well-being. They were supported by forces outside the borders, which implanted among the people those who wished to cause strife, and formed a government inside a government. This ended with these forces controllin­g branches of government and obtaining the final say in the affairs of Lebanon and the [lives of the] Lebanese.”

“I refer, frankly and unequivoca­lly, to Iran, which plants sedition, devastatio­n and ruin, which is attested to by its interferen­ce in the internal affairs of the Arab nation, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen – driven by a deep hatred of the Arab nation and an overwhelmi­ng desire to destroy and control it,” he said.

Calling Hezbollah, the “arm of Iran not only in Lebanon but also in other Arab countries,” Hariri said: “Over the past decades, Hezbollah has unfortunat­ely managed to impose a fait accompli in Lebanon using the force of its weapons, which are alleged to be solely for the resistance.”

“Their [Hezbollah’s] efforts are aimed to liberate our Syrian and Yemeni brothers, rather than the Lebanese. I do not need to list these interventi­ons, and every day reveals to us the size of the suffering – not only at the internal Lebanese level but in terms of our relations with our Arab brothers, and [extending to] the cell of Hezbollah in Kuwait, far away,” Hariri said.

“As a result, we are in the eye of the storm, [the target] of internatio­nal condemnati­ons and economic sanctions because of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah,” he added.

“I would like to say to Iran and its followers that they are failing in their interferen­ce in the affairs of the Arab nation. Our nation will rise as it did in the past, and it will cut off the hands that are reaching for it. And as we responded to you in Bahrain and Yemen, we will respond to you in every part of our dear nation.”

Hariri expressed fears for his life. “We live in an atmosphere similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassinat­ion of martyr Rafik Hariri. I have sensed that someone has been targeting me,” he said, referring to the 2005 killing of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in a massive suicide truck bombing.

But the Lebanese Army said Sunday that their investigat­ions had turned up no indication of assassinat­ion plots in Lebanon. Army investigat­ions found “no evidence of any plans for assassinat­ions in the country,” an Army statement said.

General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim also said that the directorat­e had no knowledge of any assassinat­ion plots against political figures in Lebanon.

The security agencies’ remarks came as Asharq al-Awsat reported that Western intelligen­ce agencies had warned Hariri of assassinat­ion plots against him. The Saudi-owned newspaper cited sources close to Hariri.

Following Hariri’s resignatio­n announceme­nt, Saudi-owned newscaster Al Arabiya reported that there had been a foiled assassinat­ion attempt on Hariri’s life earlier in the week. The channel, quoting sources, said that Hariri’s convoy had been targeted as it was traveling through Beirut a few days before he left for Saudi Arabia Friday.

The Internal Security Forces issued a statement Saturday evening clarifying that they were not the source of any informatio­n related to the possible targeting of Hariri.

 ??  ?? Hariri tweets picture from Riyadh with incoming Saudi Arabian ambassador to Lebanon.
Hariri tweets picture from Riyadh with incoming Saudi Arabian ambassador to Lebanon.

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