Hariri urges Lebanese to put country ahead of regional issues after political crisis

Saad al-Hariri, who suspended his decision to resign as prime minister, speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon on Nov 22, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Thursday (Nov 23) that the political crisis in Lebanon this month was "a wake up call" for Lebanese with different loyalties to put their country ahead of regional issues.

Mr Hariri was referring to the crisis ignited by his decision to resign earlier this month. He announced the shock resignation from Saudi Arabia, a Sunni monarchy and regional powerhouse, which is locked in a tussle with Shi'ite Iran.

After returning to Lebanon this week, he shelved the decision on Wednesday at the request of President Michel Aoun.

"The period that passed was perhaps like a wake up call for all of us to look for Lebanon's interests rather than looking at problems around us," Mr Hariri said at the Annual Arab Banking Conference in Beirut on Thursday. "The problems around us are important, but Lebanon is more important."

Mr Hariri also reaffirmed the need for Lebanon to stick by its policy of staying out of regional conflict - "not just with words but with action as well."

His comments refer to the Iran-backed Hizbollah political and military movement, whose regional military role has greatly alarmed Saudi Arabia, Mr Hariri's long-time ally.

"I want to stress that... our main concern is stability, and this is what we'll be working on," he said.

Mr Hariri said on Wednesday his decision to postpone resigning would lead to "a responsible dialogue... that deals with divisive issues and their repercussions on Lebanon's relations with Arab brothers."

Top Lebanese officials have said Riyadh forced him to quit and held him in the kingdom. Riyadh and Mr Hariri deny this.

Mr Hariri returned to Lebanon after an intervention by France.

A leader in Mr Hariri's Future Movement said on Thursday that Mr Hariri's decision to wait instead of officially resigning from his post was a "wise step" that will allow for more dialogue.

The Parliament group for Hizbollah said in a statement on Thursday that Prime Minister Hariri's return from abroad and his "positive statements" signal a possible return to normality in Lebanon, al-Mayadin TV channel reported.

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