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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Stability is top priority for Lebanon, Hariri tells bankers

Prime minister calls for focus on country's internal matters rather than regional issues

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri greets the audience on his arrival at a regional banking conference in Beirut on November 23, 2017. Hussein Malla / AP Photo
Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri greets the audience on his arrival at a regional banking conference in Beirut on November 23, 2017. Hussein Malla / AP Photo

The stability of Lebanon is paramount, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri told a meeting of regional bankers in Beirut on Thursday, a day after agreeing to suspend his resignation.

"Our primary concern in Lebanon is stability, and that is what we are going to focus on," Mr Hariri said at the opening of the annual Arab Banking Conference.

It was Mr Hariri's fourth public appearance since his return to Lebanon on Tuesday after announcing his resignation while in Saudi Arabia on November 4. His attributed his surprise decision in part to the meddling by Iran and the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hizbollah in regional affairs.

“The stage that passed constitutes an awakening for all of us to seek Lebanon's interests first before looking at the problems around us,” he said, referring to his sudden resignation and the subsequent political turmoil in the country.

"We must look at all means to reach the point where Lebanon stands back, in practice, and not just in rhetoric," he said.

Hizbollah, which is a part of Mr Hariri's government formed last December, has sent its fighters into the civil war in Syria on behalf of president Bashar Al Assad. Saudi Arabia, a supporter of Mr Hariri, has accused the group of assisting rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is seeking to restore the UN-recognised government.

In its first remarks since Mr Hariri's return, Hizbollah said the move was "promising" and sent a signal that matters can "return to normal".

Hassan Fadlallah, a Hizbollah MP, said Mr Hariri's independence Day remarks on Wednesday could form the basis for efforts to find "appropriate" solutions to the country's crisis.

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Besides stability, Lebanon also needed to focus on reviving its economy, Mr Hariri told the banking conference.

One of the main concerns following the his resignation was the prospect of a return to the political paralysis that affected growth since 2011. Lebanon’s economic stability has been maintained through the strength of its currency, the pound, which has remained stable at about 1,500 pounds to the US dollar since the 1990s.

Mr Salameh told the conference Lebanon was "on track for a 2.5 per cent growth this year".

Mr Hariri thanked the central bank governor Riad Salameh, who was able "to fortify the Lebanese pound, even when we politicians disagreed with each other".

The prime minister on Thursday also hosted a meeting of his Future Movement parliamentary bloc at his residence in Beirut.

Mr Hariri "provided essential updates regarding the political developments locally and regionally with his own assessment of the recent developments, and how we should monitor them and respond”, according to a statement ready out by the bloc's deputy chief, Bassem Al Sabeh.

The bloc also praised Mr Hariri's decision to postpone his resignation, saying it showed his "commitment to protecting the independence of the country, and to avoid sliding into the risks and conflicts surrounding Lebanon”.

The prime minister also met with the French ambassador on Thursday. French president Emmanuel Macron was instrumental in arranging Mr Hariri's return to Lebanon following his resignation.