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Saudi crown prince jokes Lebanon PM 'not kidnapped'

© AFP | Saudi Arabia has long been a key ally of Saad Hariri (R)

RIYADH (AFP) - 

Saudi Arabia's crown prince on Wednesday joked about allegations that Lebanon's premier-designate Saad Hariri was detained in the kingdom last year, saying he hoped his current visit does not spark "abduction" rumours.

Hariri "will be staying in the kingdom for two more days, so I hope there are no rumours of his abduction," Prince Mohammed bin Salman said while addressing the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh.

The prince burst out laughing and shook hands with a smiling Hariri, who sat next to him on stage, as the audience also erupted in laughter.

Saudi Arabia has long been a key ally of Hariri, while Riyadh's regional foe Iran backs Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

But in November last year, Hariri announced he was stepping down in a televised address from the Saudi capital, causing observers to speculate he was being held against his will.

After French mediation, he rescinded his resignation the following month, and Saudi Arabia has denied intimidating Hariri into quitting his post.

Hariri was named premier for a third term in May after Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in nine years, but has since struggled to form a cabinet.

Hariri, a dual Saudi citizen, has thrown his support behind Prince Mohammedas he faces global outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

© 2018 AFP