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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Macron invites Hariri and family to France

A source in the Elysée Palace said the former Lebanese prime minister is expected to travel in the coming days

This file photo taken on September 1, 2017 shows French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shaking hands with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a press conference at the Murat Lounge in the Elysee Palace in Paris. AFP / Ludovic Marin
This file photo taken on September 1, 2017 shows French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shaking hands with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a press conference at the Murat Lounge in the Elysee Palace in Paris. AFP / Ludovic Marin

French president Emmanuel Macron has invited Saad Hariri and his family to go to France after the Lebanese prime minister's surprise resignation earlier this month.

"After speaking with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, the president has invited Saad Hariri and his family to France," an Elysée Palace official said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mr Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation as premier 11 days ago from the Saudi capital Riyadh, citing fear of assassination and sharply criticising Iranian influence in Lebanon and the wider region.

In an interview on Monday, the former prime minister – who holds Saudi citizenship – denied rumours that he was under house arrest in Saudi Arabia, or that his resignation was related to Riyadh's arrest of 11 princes and former officials on the same day. “I’m free in the kingdom and I can travel anytime I want,” Mr Hariri said.

Saudi Arabia has also denied detaining Mr Hariri or coercing him to quit.

However, Lebanese president Michel Aoun has said he will not accept the resignation until Mr Hariri returns to Beirut to formally submit it.

“We will not accept [Mr Hariri] remaining a hostage whose reason for detention we do not know,” Mr Aoun said in a statement.

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The Elysée Palace statement referred to Mr Hariri as Lebanon's prime minister and gave no explicit reason for Mr Macron's invitation.

Speaking to reporters in Bonn, the French president insisted his offer to Mr Hariri was not one of political exile.

"No, not at all," he said, when asked if he was handing Mr Hariri exile. "I hope that Lebanon will be stable, and that political choices should be in accordance with institutional rule."

"We need a strong Lebanon with her territorial integrity respected. We need leaders who are free to make their own choices and speak freely."

A source in the Elysée Palace, cited by Reuters, said Mr Hariri is expected to travel to France in the coming days with his family.

The French president and his ministers have held a flurry of talks with players shaping the situationturmoil in Lebanon, and Mr Macron flew to Saudi Arabia last week for surprise talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He said France had a role to play in bringing peace to a region suffering soaring tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are already backing opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.