Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris for talks with Macron

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Lebanese PM Saad al-Hariri had been in Riyadh since announcing his resignation there on 4 November

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Elysee Presidential Palace on 18 November (AFP)
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Saturday 18 November 2017 12:32 UTC
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Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon's prime minister this month while in Saudi Arabia, arrived in Paris on Saturday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, a statement from Hariri’s press office said.

Hariri told Lebanese President Michel Aoun in a phone call from Paris that he would be in Lebanon on Wednesday for Independence Day celebrations, Aoun said on Twitter.

Hariri will meet Macron at noon and then attend a lunch in his honour with his wife and eldest son, the statement said.

Macron said on Friday he would welcome Hariri to Paris as Lebanon's prime minister and expected him to return to Beirut in the "coming days, weeks".

Hariri's abrupt resignation on 4 November and continued stay in Saudi Arabia has roused fears for Lebanon's stability. His visit to France with his family is seen as part of a possible way out of the crisis.

Okab Saqr, a member of parliament for Hariri's Future Movement, had said that after Hariri's visit to France he would have "a small Arab tour" before travelling to Beirut.

The crisis has thrust Lebanon into the regional rivalry pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against a bloc led by Iran, which includes the heavily armed Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group.

Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, has called Hariri a Saudi hostage and refused to accept his resignation unless he returns to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Hariri say his movements are not restricted.

Hariri has in turn tweeted: "To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport ..."

Earlier a member of his party said Hariri would leave Riyadh for France on Friday but would not return directly to Beirut after the visit.

In his sharply worded resignation statement, Hariri, 47, accused Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising his country and the broader region.

Speculation has swirled around the fate of Hariri, who is a dual Saudi citizen.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said during a visit to the kingdom that Hariri would travel to France.

Earlier, Le Drian held talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who told reporters that Hariri, whose family is a longtime ally of the Sunni-ruled kingdom, was free to leave "when he pleases".

Hariri is living in the kingdom "of his own free will," said Jubeir, the highest-ranking Saudi official to comment on Hariri's status since his surprise resignation.

"These are false allegations. The accusation that Saudi Arabia is detaining a prime minister, and particularly a political figure who is an ally ... is untrue," he added.

"He will come to France and the prince has been informed," Le Drian told reporters, referring to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, with whom he held talks the previous evening.

The French president's office said on Wednesday that Hariri and his family had been invited to France for a "few days," but added that did not mean he would stay there in exile.

Macron has stressed that Hariri should be able to return to Lebanon to confirm or withdraw his resignation in person.

On Wednesday night, Okab Sakr, a close adviser of Hariri's, told a Lebanese TV station that the premier "will leave in 48 hours for France with his family".

He added that Hariri would return to Lebanon, without specifying when.