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Hariri heads to Saudi for second time since suspect resignation

France confirms that Hariri was detained in Riyadh last year
It is the premier's second visit to Saudi since his alleged detention in Riyadh (Reuters)

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri headed to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for the second time since his shock resignation in the kingdom last year.

On 4 November, Hariri announced he was stepping down in a televised address from Riyadh, sparking concerns that he was being detained against his will.

After French mediation, however, he rescinded his resignation the following month and was named premier for a third term after Lebanon's first parliamentary polls in nine years.

"Hariri headed to Saudi Arabia for a visit expected to last a few days," his office said in a statement late on Tuesday.

It is the premier's second visit to Saudi Arabia since his alleged detention in Riyadh after an earlier trip in February.

His Future Movement party lost a third of its seats on 6 May, when voters reinforced the strength of Hezbollah and its allies.

Hariri, 48, is in the process of forming a new coalition cabinet - a tedious task that requires meeting the demands of various political parties that will take part in the government. Critics pointed that Tuesday's visit comes at an unusual time for a designated prime minister.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that Paris had intervened to free Hariri, taking personal credit for averting the crisis, which he said would have led to a civil war in Lebanon.

"I remind you that a prime minister was held in Saudi Arabia for several weeks," he said in an interview with broadcaster BFM TV.

The Saudi foreign ministry in a statement on Tuesday called Macron's comments "untrue".

"All the evidence confirms that what is pulling Lebanon and the region towards instability is Iran and its tools like the Hezbollah terrorist militia," it said in the statement.

Hariri has been prime minister since December 2016 and served his first term from 2009 to 2011.

Saudi Arabia has long been a key ally of Hariri, while Riyadh's regional foe Iran backs Hezbollah.

But the prime minister's relationship with Riyadh soured after Saudi Arabia suspended a $3bn aid package to the Lebanese army in 2016. Later that year, Hariri entered a political settlement with Hezbollah that saw the group's ally, Michel Aoun, become president.

The deal paved the way for Hariri to return to the premiership.

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