State won't accept Lebanon PM's resignation

A poster depicting Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Photo: Reurers
A poster depicting Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Photo: Reurers

Lebanon's president appealed for national unity on Monday (local time) after Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri quit in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, plunging the coalition government and country into political crisis.

After Hariri's shock announcement, political uncertainty deepened further when Lebanon's parliamentary speaker said it was still too early to say whether the government had actually resigned or to talk about the formation of a new government.

President Michel Aoun has said he will not decide whether to accept or reject Hariri's resignation until he returns home from Saudi Arabia.

"It is too early to say whether there has been a (government) resignation or not," Speaker Nabih Berri said in a televised statement after meeting Aoun.

Hariri's resignation exposed Lebanon again to the sharp end of the struggle for Middle East dominance between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Muslim Iran, which has also wrought upheaval in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.

In a televised speech on Saturday, Hariri's resignation shocked even his close aides. Lebanon's most influential Sunni politician, Hariri said he feared an assassination plot against him, accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which was part of his coalition, of breeding strife in the Arab world.

The government was painstakingly devised to group key sectarian factions including the Iran-backed, Shi'ite Hezbollah. Its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of forcing Hariri to go and said there were "legitimate questions" over whether he had been detained in the kingdom.

Aides to Hariri, whose family made their fortune in the Saudi construction industry, have strongly denied such claims.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, a senior member of Hariri's political party, said he was under the impression the premier would return to Beirut within days.

A meeting between Saudi King Salman and Hariri in Riyadh on Monday proved "rumours" wrong, he said - an apparent reference to speculation that Hariri was detained or forced to quit.

Speculation in Lebanon over Hariri's status bubbled as Saudi Arabia underwent an anti-corruption purge in which royals, ministers and investors have been arrested as the putative next king tightens his grip on power.

Aoun held a meeting with ministers and top security officials at Baabda palace, telling them that political leaders had been responsive to calls for calm.

"He stressed that security, economic, financial, and political stability is a red line," Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said after the meeting.

"The president is waiting for Hariri's return to hear from him personally," said Jreissati, who is politically aligned with Hezbollah. "This indicates a sovereign vision ... and that the resignation must be voluntary in every sense."

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