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Saad Hariri says he will return to Lebanon in days

Eight days after his shock resignation, Lebanese PM denies rumours he is being held against his will in Saudi Arabia.

Beirut cafe

Saad Hariri, the resigned prime minister of Lebanon, has rejected rumours he is being held against his will in Saudi Arabia and pledged to return to Beirut very soon.

Hariri made the comments from Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, in his first public comments since his shock resignation eight days ago. 

Speaking on Sunday on Future TV, a station affiliated with his political party, Hariri said he was free in Saudi Arabia.

"Here in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I am free. I have complete freedom, but I want to look after my family as well," he said, adding that he planned to return to Lebanon in the near future.

"I'm not talking about months ... I'm only talking about days and I'll go back to Lebanon."

In an unexpected move, Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician and long-time ally of Saudi Arabia, quit as Lebanon's prime minister on November 4 during a visit to Riyadh.

Hariri blamed interference in Lebanon by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah for his decision to quit, adding he feared an assassination attempt. 

But Lebanese officials have said Hariri is likely to be under either house arrest or in temporary detention in Riyadh.

 Political turmoil

Hariri's resignation, just 11 months after he took office, has plunged Lebanon in uncertainty, threatening the country's fragile political stability and raising concerns over an open-ended crisis .

It has also stoked fears of an escalation in the regional divide between Iran and the Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon on the front lines.

Hariri is part of a unity government that also includes rival political factions such as those supported by Hezbollah, a popular Shia group which is represented in the Lebanese parliament and has a strong armed wing. 

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, on Friday said Hariri is currently detained in Saudi Arabia and that his "forced" resignation is unconstitutional because it was done "under pressure".

Speaking in Beirut, Nasrallah he was sure Hariri was forced to resign as part of what he called Saudi Arabia's policy of stoking sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

In his interview, Hariri said he wrote his own resignation speech, insisting that he was not forced to step down.

"I wanted to make a positive shock for the Lebanese people so the people know how dangerous the situation we are in," he said.

Hariri also said that upon his return to Lebanon he will confirm his resignation in accordance with the country's constitution.

But he also hinted that he could rescind his decision to step down, provided that Hezbollah "respected" Lebanon's policy of not getting involved in regional conflicts.

Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow at the American University of Beirut, said Hariri's body language during the Future TV interview indicated that he was in "an uncomfortable situation".

This was not the normal Saad Hariri that we’ve seen in Lebanon for many years," Khouri said from Boston, US.

"He physically looked not at ease, and what he was saying was very contradictory to many people in Lebanon - saying that he is free when he didn't look free; saying that he is doing this to help Lebanon when perhaps it was actually more to help Saudi Arabia

"There’s just a lot of contradictions and a lack of clarity in what he was saying, so I think it just reinforces the widespread sentiment in Lebanon that he is being used by the Saudi Arabian government as a mechanism to put pressure on the Lebanese government to put pressure on Hezbollah which would put pressure on Iran ... I think there is no doubt about that, he is caught in a very difficult situation."


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