Lebanon's outgoing premier promises to return home 'very soon'


Lebanon's outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri denied on Sunday he is being forced to stay in Saudi Arabia, saying he will return home "very soon."

Hariri is staying in Saudi Arabia where he announced his surprise resignation more than a week ago, sparking claims that he is being held there against his will.

"If I want to leave Saudi Arabia tomorrow, I can do this," Hariri said in an interview, his first televised appearance since the resignation announcement. "I'll return to Lebanon very soon," he added in an interview with Lebanon's Future Television, the mouthpiece of his political party. "I will return and continue my role."

Hariri said he was reviewing his security arrangements before returning to Lebanon "within days", citing what he tersely called a "threat" to his life. He looked emotionally touched as he talked about his attachment to Lebanon.

"My message to all is that Lebanon should be our first interest," he said, addressing his compatriots.

The Sunni Muslim politician, who also holds Saudi nationality, renewed his accusation towards Shia Iran and its allied Lebanese Hezbollah movement of meddling in the affairs of Arab countries. His resignation sent shock waves across politically fragile Lebanon.

"I wanted to make a positive shock to the Lebanese so that they will know that we are in danger," he said in the interview conducted in his house in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Hariri hinted that he could go back on his resignation if Hezbollah stops its alleged involvement in regional conflicts. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, has not accepted Hariri's resignation.

Shortly before Hariri's interview was aired, Aoun said the outgoing premier's freedom in Saudi Arabia and his access to family are restricted.

"This makes whatever stances taken or will be taken by Prime Minister Hariri a matter of doubt," Aoun added, according to Lebanon's official news agency NNA.

Earlier on Sunday, Hariri's supporters gathered on the sidelines of a marathon in the capital Beirut to urge him to return. Lebanese television stations showed people carrying pro-Hariri signs reading "We want our PM back" and "All of us are waiting for you".

Some runners also wore shirts emblazoned with Hariri's picture in a gesture of support.

"This event is being held amid disappointment that the head of our government is not among us," said lawmaker Simon Abi Ramia, who attended the marathon, according to the official NNA news agency. "The message is clear today: Lebanon's people want to live and our dignity will not be humiliated," he added.

Hariri used to participate in the marathon.

His resignation has provoked international fears that Lebanon could be sucked into a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran.

Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo next week at Saudi Arabia's request, the Arab League said on Sunday. Next Sunday the ministers are set to discuss "Iranian interferences" in the region, an official at the pan-Arab bloc said on condition of anonymity.

"The meeting will look into ways of countering the Iranian interferences that undermine Arab security and peace," the official added, without elaborating.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are backing opposite sides in wars in Syria and Yemen.    (dpa)

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