Suspicions grow that Saudis are keeping Hariri prisoner
LEBANON’S government demanded the return of former prime minister Saad Hariri yesterday as suspicions grew that he is being held prisoner in the kingdom.
The call came as Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahraini citizens began flying out of Lebanon following Thursday’s orders from their governments.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun summoned Saudi charge d’affaires Walid al-Bukhari to the presidential palace yesterday.
He said Mr Hariri’s extraordinary resignation, announced on television from the Saudi capital on Saturday, was “unacceptable” and urged him to return.
Foreign Minister Jibran Bassil tweeted: “Today we demand the return to the nation of our Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“We paid a heavy price to elect a president and a premier who represent us,” he wrote. “We chose our representatives and we are the ones to decide whether to remove them or not.”
Mr Hariri’s own Future Movement party also called on him to return “to restore the internal and external balance of Lebanon” in a statement read out by former prime minister Fouad Siniora on Thursday.
That was after Mr Hariri’s plane returned from Riyadh without him.
Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan warned Beirut on Monday that it would be “declaring war” on the kingdom if the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, an ally of Iran, was not excluded from the unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office claimed yesterday that the French and US ambassadors to Saudi Arabia had seen Mr Hariri, who “says he is not a prisoner, the prince [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] says he is not a prisoner.”
Mr Macron flew from the neighbouring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia in Thursday night to meet the crown prince, who only received the title from King Salman in June.
Before the French president left, he echoed unproven Saudi and US claims that the Yemeni ballistic missile that hit Riyadh airport on Saturday had been supplied by Iran.
France, the US and Britain all supply arms to countries in the Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Yemen since early 2015. British officers also train Saudi troops and help direct the war from the country’s command centre.