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West Asia: West Asia crisis intensifies, Lebanon says Saudis have ‘kidnapped’ PM

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BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president called on Saudi Arabia on Saturday to clarify the reasons why the country’s PM has not returned home since his resignation last week, announced from the kingdom, as the US and France expressed their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability amid heightening tensions between Beirut and Saudi Arabia.

A political crisis has gripped Lebanon and shattered the relative peace maintained by its coalition government since PM Saad al-Hariri’s stunning announcement on November 4 from the Saudi capital that he was resigning.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on Saudi Arabia to clarify why Hariri hasn’t returned home since announcing his resignation saying that “the obscurity regarding Hariri’s conditions makes anything that he says or does not reflect truth”. It was an indication that Aoun does not recognise Hariri’s resignation.

Lebanese officials have insisted on the return home of Hariri from Saudi Arabia amid rumours that he is being held against his will. According to a senior official, Lebanon’s president is said to have told foreign ambassadors that Hariri has been “kidnapped” and must have immunity.

Riyadh maintains Hariri is free and had decided to resign because Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, was calling the shots in his coalition government. Saudi officials have said that their measures against Lebanon are in response to the militant Hezbollah’s group support of anti-Saudi rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.

Amid the growing regional crisis, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dispatched his foreign minister for talks with Arab nations. “The foreign minister’s tour comes in the framework of permanent consultations between Egypt and Arab brothers on mutual relations and the conditions in the region, especially in the shadow of developments in Lebanon’s political arena,” a ministry statement said.

Posters depicting Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who has resigned from his post, seen in Beirut. The writing on the posters reads, ‘We are all with you’. (Reuters photo)

Western countries have appealed for calm and freedom of movement for Hariri. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Washington calls upon “all states and parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and constitutional processes.”

Also on Saturday, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that French President Emmanuel Macron called Aoun expressing France’s commitment to Lebanon’s “unity, sovereignty and independence and to help it in preserving political and security stability”.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said on Saturday that pumping to Bahrain had been suspended and the kingdom was stepping up security precautions at its own facilities after its Gulf island neighbour blamed “terrorism” linked to Iran for an oil pipeline blast. Iran denies any role in unrest in Bahrain.

Updated: November 12, 2017 — 1:49 am

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