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Lebanon's Hariri to arrive in France on Saturday

Le président français Emmanuel Macron (D) et Saad Hariri lors de la visite du Premier ministre libanais à Paris, le 1er septembre 2017
ludovic MARIN (AFP/Archives)
Hariri has been in Riyadh since announcing his shock resignation from there on November 4

Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri will arrive in France on Saturday, the French presidency said, after weeks of speculation he is being prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia.

Hariri has been in Riyadh since announcing his shock resignation from there on November 4, for which he cited Iran's"grip" on the country and threats to his life as motivating his decision.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who this week accused Saudi authorities of "detaining" Hariri and refused to accept his resignation from abroad, welcomed the news that the premier would visit Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron.

The French president's office said on Wednesday that Hariri and his family had been invited to France for a "few days" but that did not mean he would stay there in exile.

The announcement comes after a meeting between Hariri and French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Riyadh on Thursday.

Speaking alongside his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir at a press conference on Thursday, Le Drian said France is worried by Iran's "hegemonic" intentions in the Middle East.

"I'm thinking specifically about Iran's ballistic program," Le Drian added.

AFP

Le Drian told reporters earlier that Hariri had accepted Macron's invitation to visit Paris and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, with whom he held talks late on Wednesday, has been informed.

"We hope that the crisis is over and Hariri's acceptance of the invitation to go to France is the start of a solution," Aoun said on the official presidential Twitter account.

"I am awaiting the return of Prime Minister Hariri from Paris for us to decide the next step with regards to the government," Aoun added.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir rejected accusations that Hariri was under house arrest, declaring that he is living in the kingdom "of his own free will" and free to leave "when he pleases."

Macron's invitation to Hariri came on Wednesday. The French president has dispelled claims that he is offering Hariri “exile”, stating his desire to see a stable Lebanon and urging that “political choices should be in accordance with institutional rule.”

He clarified that the invitation was made for “friendship” and in order for Hariri to spend some time with his family in France.

HO (Lebanon's Maronite Patriarchate press office/AFP)

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun stated, “nothing justifies the failure of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to return for 12 days, therefore we consider him to be held and detained, contrary to the Vienna Convention," Aoun tweeted.

Shortly after Aoun's statement, Hariri also took to Twitter in an apparent bid to quell rumors of his detention.

"I want to repeat and confirm: I am totally, totally fine and I'll come back, God willing, to beloved Lebanon like I promised you all. You'll see," he wrote.

A Lebanese politician from Hariri’s Future Movement party said on Wednesday, “it is likely he will be doing a tour of some European and Arab countries to explain Lebanon’s position on the current crisis before he returns [to Lebanon].”

(Staff with AFP)

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