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Lebanon's PM to Return to Beirut       11/18 11:42

   PARIS (AP) -- Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Saturday he will 
return home in the coming days from where he will declare a political stance 
for the first time since making a strange resignation announcement from Saudi 
Arabia that unleashed fears of a political crisis in Lebanon.

   Hariri and his family met Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron, 
who invited the Lebanese leader to Paris to dispel fears that he was being held 
in Saudi Arabia against his will. Macron is seeking to calm tensions and avert 
a proxy conflict between Saudi-backed and Iranian-backed camps in Lebanon.

   Hariri's appearance in Paris --- looking relaxed and posing with his wife 
and older son on the steps of the Elysee Palace with the French presidential 
couple in front of a large crowd of journalists --- contrasted with his 
limited-access, carefully choreographed appearances from Saudi Arabia.

   Hariri told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday that he will take 
part in Independence Day celebrations in Beirut on Wednesday, according to 
Macron's office. A French presidential official said Macron spoke Saturday with 
Aoun, who thanked France for its efforts to help Lebanon.

   After his meeting with Macron, Hariri told reporters: "God willing, I will 
attend Independence Day in Lebanon and will declare my political stance from 
Lebanon and after meeting President Michel Aoun."

   "As you know I have resigned and we will talk about this matter in Lebanon," 
Hariri said after thanking Macron, who he added "expressed pure friendship 
toward me that I will never forget."

   The independence day ceremony is usually headed by the president, prime 
minister and parliament speaker, and Hariri's presence could help calm 
uncertainties that have escalated since his strange and surprising resignation 
announcement on Nov. 4 from Saudi Arabia.

   However, Hariri's political status is murky. Lebanon's president refused to 
accept Hariri's resignation, accusing the Saudis of holding him against his 
will.

   Before leaving Riyadh, Hariri dismissed as "rumors" reports about his 
alleged detention in the kingdom. In a tweet, he insisted his stay in Saudi 
Arabia was to consult with officials there on the future of Lebanon and its 
relations with its Arab neighbors.

   In his televised resignation announcement, Hariri had cited Iran and 
Hezbollah for meddling in Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. He also 
said he was afraid for his life.

   Saudi Arabia on Saturday asked its citizens for the second time in less than 
two weeks to leave Lebanon "as soon as possible" given the "circumstances" 
there. That raised fears of more punitive actions to come.

   The Arab League is due to hold a meeting on Sunday in Cairo at Saudi 
Arabia's urging where the Lebanon crisis and Iran's role in the region are 
expected to be discussed.

   Just before leaving Saudi Arabia, Hariri met with the Saudi Crown Prince and 
other senior officials, according to a member of Hariri's political party and 
two Lebanese television stations.

   Hariri landed before dawn Saturday at an airport used for private jets in Le 
Bourget north of Paris, and came in a convoy to his Paris residence in a 
high-end neighborhood, where police stood guard. Hariri frequently stays in 
France thanks to decades-old family ties here.

   Hariri held private talks with Macron and then they were joined by Hariri's 
wife Lara al-Azm and elder son Hussam and Macron's wife Brigitte for lunch.

   Hariri's two younger son and daughter, Abdul-Aziz and Loulwa, remained in 
Saudi Arabia because they have school on Sunday, said Okab Saqr, a member of 
Hariri's parliamentary bloc.

   Hariri's exact next steps after his planned visit to Lebanon are unclear. A 
French official said Saturday that France is offering Hariri the necessary 
support during this time of political turmoil in his country. The official was 
not authorized to be publicly named.

   Macron said he received Hariri "with the honors due a prime minister," even 
though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn't yet recognized it.

   While Macron insists that he's not offering "exile," Hariri's return could 
be complicated by Lebanon's internal tensions.

   It's part of a broader Macron strategy to reassert French influence in the 
region, while the United States under President Donald Trump is increasingly 
seen as unpredictable or disengaged. Macron's office says France's strategy is 
to talk to all powers in the region and not to appear as choosing a camp.

   Another issue might emerge with Hariri's arrival to France: Dozens of French 
employees are suing in French courts his Saudi Oger construction firm, which 
has failed to pay them for months.

   The company owes them 14 million euros ($16.5 million) --- an amount Hariri 
committed to pay after several meetings with French diplomats, but never did, 
according to the French daily Liberation.


(KA)

 
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