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Lebanon PM says he will return to his country soon

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 4:18 PM
Lebanese smoke water pipes and play cards at a coffee shop as they listen to outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a live interview shown on his Future TV from Saudi Arabia in Beirut, Lebanon, today.

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri today says he will return to his country “within days” amid a political crisis that erupted when he announced his sudden resignation on Nov. 4 in Saudi Arabia.

In a live interview shown on Future TV, Hariri said he had resigned to protect Lebanon from imminent danger, although he didn’t specify who was threatening the country. He said he will return to submit his resignation and seek a settlement with his rivals in the coalition government, the militant group Hezbollah.

But Hariri said withdrawing his resignation would be conditional on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah committing to remaining neutral on regional conflicts. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to neighbouring Syria to support the forces of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

Hariri looked tired and sad in the interview from Saudi Arabia on his Future TV channel that lasted more than an hour. He held back tears as he spoke and repeated several times that he resigned to cause a “positive shock” and draw attention to the danger of siding with Iran in regional conflicts.

“We are in the eye of the storm,” Hariri said.

He said the unity government he formed a year ago was supposed to stick to an agreement not to interfere in regional affairs but that Hezbollah has not kept up its end of the deal.

Apparently seeking to show he was not being detained by the Saudis, Hariri told the interviewer: “I am free.”

He said his resignation was his own decision, dismissing reports he was forced into it. But he also said he is looking into security arrangements before returning to Lebanon, suggesting his life was in danger.

“I saw what happened ... when my father was martyred. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me,” Hariri said. His father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005.

The interview followed pressure from Lebanese officials, who said Hariri’s 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 Hezbollah.

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