Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said he will return to his country “very soon”, in his first televised interview since he resigned in Saudi Arabia last week.
Mr Hariri was speaking today in a live interview to his station Future TV, after pressure from Lebanese officials who said his resignation was not accepted because it was declared in Saudi Arabia. Lebanon’s president said Mr Hariri was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia.
“I am free,” Mr Hariri told the TV interviewer. He said he decided to resign to save the country from imminent danger, but did not elaborate. Mr Hariri said he would return to Lebanon “very soon”, ”in days”.
A dual Lebanese-Saudi national and an ally of Riyadh, Mr Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation on November 4 in a pre-recorded message broadcast on Saudi TV, criticising Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, and saying he feared for his safety. His father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. His family lives in Riyadh.
Mr Hariri said his resignation was his decision, dismissing reports he was forced to quit a unity government with his rival Hezbollah militant group. During the interview Mr Hariri held back tears. He said his resignation was designed to “cause a positive shock” in the country, warning against Iranian interference that was, he said, ruining relations with other Arab countries.
Mr Hariri said he “can’t be the only one making concessions while the others do whatever they want”.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun said before the interview that the “mysterious circumstances for Hariri’s stay in the Saudi capital of Riyadh makes all his positions questionable and in doubt and not of his own volition”.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up its rhetoric against Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, accusing both of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Houthis since March 2015.
Saudi Arabia has asked its citizens to leave Lebanon, and many Lebanese fear further economic sanctions or even military action against their country. Earlier Sunday, thousands of people attending Lebanon’s annual marathon used the event to urge Mr Hariri to return home.
Mr Hariri was a regular participant in the marathon, giving the international sports event a big boost. This year Mr Aoun encouraged runners to call on Mr Hariri to return. Organisers said more than 47,000 took part in the marathon.
Spectators along the marathon course wore hats and held signs reading “Running for you” and “Waiting for you”. Large billboards with pictures of Mr Hariri rose overhead, and a local TV station showed an hour-long profile and interview with Mr Hariri from last year.
One woman raised a placard reading: “We want our prime minister back.”