Resigned PM ‘held’ by Saudi Arabia: Lebanese president

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‘We assume he’s being detained by the Saudi authorities,’ Lebanese President Michel Aoun asserts

Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Wednesday said resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri was being held against his will in Riyadh, from which he abruptly announced his resignation 12 days ago.

“Nothing justifies Hariri’s failure to return [to Lebanon] after 12 days. Therefore, we assume he is being detained by the [Saudi] authorities,” Aoun declared in a press statement.

He went on to assert that Hariri’s suspected detention violated the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Signed in 1961, the convention lays down procedures for diplomatic operations between sovereign states, along with the rights and responsibilities of diplomatic missions and their staffs.

Addressing the Lebanese public, Aoun stated: “Don’t worry about the economic, security and financial aspects [of Hariri’s resignation and prolonged absence from Lebanon]… the country is safe and the financial markets are functioning as they should.”

“It’s impossible to accept a resignation tendered from outside the country,” he added. “He [Hariri] should return to Lebanon and tender his resignation — or even withdraw it — and provide the reasons behind it.”

“We can’t keep waiting and losing time; the machinery of state must continue to function,” Aoun said.

On Wednesday, Hariri, who has remained in Saudi Arabia since his abrupt resignation on Nov. 4, tweeted that he was “fine” and planned to return to Lebanon.

“I want to repeat: I am fine and will return to my beloved Lebanon,” Hariri tweeted minutes after Aoun issued his statement.

Hariri announced his resignation from the Lebanese premiership in a televised address delivered from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4.

He has yet to return to Lebanon from Riyadh, which had long been considered his chief political patron.

Aoun, meanwhile, has yet to accept Hariri’s resignation amid speculation that the latter was being held against his will by the Saudi authorities.

Earlier this week, Hariri denied suggestions that he was being held hostage, insisting that he would return to Beirut “soon”.

In his Nov. 4 resignation address, Hariri had criticized Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, accusing them of sowing “sedition” in the region and meddling in Arab affairs.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, for his part, has said there was “no reason” for Hariri to step down, accusing Saudi Arabia of forcing him to resign.

Last week, Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan dismissed these claims, describing them as “lies” disseminated by Hezbollah.

Hariri was appointed Lebanese prime minister late last year. Before his resignation, he had led a 30-member government that included Hezbollah representatives.

Saudi Arabia, Hariri’s long-time backer, is Iran’s arch-foe in the region. Riyadh supports Syria’s armed opposition, while Iran and Hezbollah both support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

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