Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Paris from Riyadh on Saturday as President Michel Aoun announced that Hariri is expected to be back in Beirut by Wednesday, in time for the Independence Day celebrations, state-run media reported.
Hariri resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister earlier this month while in Saudi Arabia. He and his wife arrived in Paris early on Saturday morning in a move widely seen as a bid to dismiss fears that he had been held against his will and forced to resign by Saudi authorities.
At midday, Hariri arrived at the Élysée Palace in Paris for a lunch meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to mediate in the region to avert a proxy conflict in Lebanon between Iranian-backed and Saudi-backed camps.
An Associated Press journalist saw Hariri emerge from a convoy that arrived Saturday morning at his Paris residence, where police stood guard. Hariri walked out of his car and moved straight into the building without speaking to journalists.
Lebanese television showed the prime minister accompanied by his wife Lara al-Azm, but none of his three children appeared.
A French diplomat confirmed Hariri’s arrival but would not comment on his plans beyond meeting Macron. It’s unclear when Hariri might return to Lebanon.
Shortly after his arrival, however, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that President Aoun had announced that he had spoken to Hariri over the phone and that he expects him to be back in Beirut by Wednesday to take part in the country's Independence Day celebrations.
'Many still wondering if Hariri's resignation was forced'
Youngest children ‘still in Riyadh’
Reporting from the Élysée Palace, FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent said Hariri had looked relaxed as he met with the French leader, with both his wife and his eldest son – who had flown in from London – by his side.
“His two youngest children weren’t with him on this trip to France, however. It’s believed they’ve stayed behind in Saudi Arabia where they are at school,” she said, adding: “So there will no doubt be speculations to what we can read into that – whether it signifies a return to Saudi Arabia for Hariri even?”
Norris-Trent said that Hariri is widely expected to make a statement following his lunch with Macron and the French first lady.
“Obviously there’s a huge amount of speculation of what has happened to him in the past few weeks. One thing we do know for sure though: the French presidency has confirmed that Hariri will be returning to Lebanon for next Wednesday, November 22.”
Before leaving Riyadh, Hariri dismissed as “rumours” reports about his alleged detention in the kingdom. In a tweet, he insisted his stay in Saudi Arabia was to consult with officials there on the future of Lebanon and its relations with its Arab neighbours.
Hariri announced his resignation November 4 in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, throwing Lebanon into a serious political crisis.
Aoun refused to accept it, accusing the Saudis of holding him against his will. Many Lebanese saw it as a sign the Sunni kingdom – the prime minister’s chief ally – had decided to drag tiny Lebanon into its feud with the region’s other powerhouse, the predominantly Shiite Iran.
In his televised announcement, Hariri cited Iran and Hezbollah for meddling in Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. He also said he was afraid for his life.
'We want him to come back'
Shortly before he left Riyadh, Saudi Arabia asked its citizens for the second time in less than two weeks to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible” given the “circumstances” there. That raised fears of more punitive actions to come.
Macron said Hariri will be received “with the honours due a prime minister”, even though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn’t yet recognised it.
Hariri’s family is expected to have lunch at the French presidential palace. Macron said he thinks Hariri intends to return to Lebanon “in the coming days and weeks”.
The Hariris have long-standing ties to France, Lebanon’s one-time colonial ruler.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2017-11-18