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France issues invite to Lebanon’s Hariri


Saad Hariri: Lebanon PM 'accepts invite to go to France'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Posters depicting Saad Hariri are displayed in streets in the Lebanese capital, Beirut

France says Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has accepted an invitation to travel there from Saudi Arabia, where Beirut says he is being detained.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters the timing of the visit was for Mr Hariri to decide, but that the Saudi government had been informed.

He spoke a day after meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

Mr Hariri resigned unexpectedly during a visit to Saudi Arabia on 4 November, sparking a political crisis in Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun for the first time publicly accused the Saudi authorities of detaining him, saying "nothing justified" his absence.

For his part, Mr Hariri insisted that he was fine and would soon return to Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has denied holding Mr Hariri against his will or pressing him to resign in an attempt to curb the influence of its regional rival Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which is part of a unity government Mr Hariri formed last year.

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France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, has been working to resolve questions about Mr Hariri's fate.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Le Drian held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday night

On Wednesday, as Mr Le Drian arrived in Riyadh, President Emmanuel Macron announced that he had invited Mr Hariri and his family to France after speaking by telephone to the prime minister and Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Macron was later forced to clarify that he was not offering political exile, and that he expected Mr Hariri to stay only "for a few days".

"We need a strong Lebanon with her territorial integrity respected. We need leaders who are free to make their own choices and speak freely," he said.

On Thursday, the AFP news agency quoted Mr Le Drian as telling reporters in Riyadh that Mr Hariri "will come to France and the prince has been informed".

Asked about the timing, he replied: "Mr Hariri's schedule is a matter for Mr Hariri."

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Media captionForeign Minister Gibran Bassil says Lebanon wants to resolve Saad Hariri’s “ambiguous situation”

The Lebanese presidency's Twitter account later quoted Mr Aoun as saying: "I am awaiting the return of Prime Minister Hariri from Paris for us to decide the next step with regards to the government."

In response to the president's assertion on Wednesday that he was being "held and detained, contrary to the Vienna Convention", Mr Hariri tweeted: "I want to repeat and affirm that I am perfectly fine and I will return, God willing, to dear Lebanon as I promised you, you'll see."

Mr Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address from Riyadh, in which he accused Iran of sowing "discord, devastation and destruction" in the region and said he sensed there was an assassination plot against him.

His father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister – was killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in connection with the attack, though the group has denied any involvement.

Mr Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who became prime minister for the second time in late 2016 in a political compromise deal that also saw Mr Aoun elected president, has close ties to Saudi Arabia.

He holds both Lebanese and Saudi citizenship and has extensive business interests there. Riyadh also backs his political party, the Future Movement.

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