Lebanon demands answers from Saudis

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s president called on Saudi Arabia on Saturday to clarify why Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri could not return home, a week after he stunned his country by resigning while in the kingdom.

A senior Lebanese official said President Michel Aoun had told foreign ambassadors Mr Hariri had been “kidnapped” and should have immunity.

Mr Hariri’s shock resignation has thrust Lebanon back into the frontline of a power struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran — a rivalry that has wrought upheaval in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain.

“Lebanon does not accept its prime minister being in a situation at odds with international treaties,” Mr Aoun said in a statement. He said any comment or move by Mr Hariri “does not reflect reality” due to the questions over his status following his resignation in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese authorities believe Riyadh is detaining Mr Hariri who flew to Saudi Arabia on November 3, two top Lebanese government officials, a senior politician close to Mr Hariri and a fourth source have said.

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed similar concerns, saying in a call with Mr Aoun on Saturday that “Lebanese political leaders should enjoy freedom of movement”.

Mr Macron, who made an unscheduled visit to Riyadh earlier this week, will receive the Lebanese foreign minister in Paris on Tuesday, the Elysee statement said.

Riyadh says Mr Hariri is free and decided to resign because Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, was calling the shots in his coalition government.

Mr Hariri has made no public remarks since quitting last week, when he said he feared assassination and accused Iran along with Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

Mr Hariri, whose family made its fortune in the Saudi construction industry, has also given no sign of when he might return to Beirut.

The Lebanese premier took part in a ceremony in Riyadh on Saturday welcoming Saudi King Salman from Medina, his media office said. Mr Hariri met with the Turkish and British ambassadors at his Riyadh home in the afternoon, it said.

Sources close to Mr Hariri say Saudi Arabia has concluded that the prime minister — a long-time Saudi ally — had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

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