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13 November 2017, 07:01 | Melissa Porter
Saudi Arabia reportedly holding ex-Lebanese prime minister against his will
Multiple Lebanese sources say Riyadh hopes to replace Saad Hariri with his older brother, Bahaa, as Lebanon's top Sunni politician.
Hariri's abrupt arrival in Saudi Arabia is seen by many in Lebanon as a blunt signal from Riyadh that he had not done enough to rebuff Hezbollah and Iranian influence, and that Saudi Arabia intends to assert its influence in Lebanon against Iran.
Hezbollah, which is both a militant group and a political force, has called Hariri's resignation illegal because it was done from afar.
Many Lebanese have suspected Hariri was placed under house arrest as part of a Saudi plan to unravel a coalition government he had formed past year with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.
A dual Lebanese-Saudi national, the Saudi-allied Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation on November 4 in a pre-recorded message on Saudi TV, criticizing Iran and Hezbollah, and saying he feared for his safety.
He said his resignation was created to "cause a positive shock" in the country, warning against Iranian interference that was, he said, ruining relations with other Arab countries. On Friday, France said it wanted Hariri to have "all his freedom of movement".
In Beirut people are anxious about an escalation, but are holding demonstrations in support of Mr Hariri, who many insist remains the Prime Minister. Hariri's family lives in Riyadh. "Political parties are allowed, but are they allowed to play a foreign role and make us Lebanese carry its weight?" But sources close to the Lebanese leader said his forced resignation was motivated by Saudi efforts to counter Iran.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has privately told foreign ambassadors that Hariri has been kidnapped.
Mr Hariri was a regular participant in the marathon, giving the global sports event a big boost.
While Mr Hariri's speech may have been encouraging in so far as offering a way out of Lebanon's current political crisis, many observers remarked that he still appeared to be more a mouthpiece for Saudi policy rather than someone speaking on his own behalf. When asked about reports that he is not communicative and doesn't use his phone much, he said: "I am in a reflective state", adding that he didn't want any distractions amid a very busy schedule.
Spectators along the marathon course wore hats and held signs reading "Running for you" and "Waiting for you".
One woman raised a placard reading: "We want our prime minister back".
"Whatever he chooses, we are with him".
"We can not say that we apply disassociation and at the same time see a group interfering in Yemen, or be dragged to relations with the Syrian regime, which I will not do".
Joanne Hamza, a physical education teacher who wore a cap with a picture of Hariri on it, said he was missed at the race. Western countries are looking on with alarm at the rising regional tension.
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