Lebanon's 'detained' Hariri to travel to France with family
International pressure has been mounting for Hariri to return to Lebanon after his prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia since he announced he would be stepping down in a televised speech from Riyadh on 4 November, plunging his country into crisis.
The French presidency said Hariri and his family had been "invited" to France after President Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone with both Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Lebanese prime minister.
Hariri "should arrive in France in the coming days", a source at the French presidency told AFP.
Macron later told reporters Hariri had been invited to France for a "few days" with his family, and that did not mean exile.
The development came as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived in Riyadh where he is due to meet Prince Mohammed later Wednesday and also hold talks with Hariri on Thursday.
Speculation has swirled around the fate of Hariri, who is a Saudi citizen and grew up in the kingdom, with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun accusing Saudi Arabia of "detaining" him.
"Nothing justifies the failure of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to return for 12 days, therefore we consider him to be held and detained, contrary to the Vienna Convention," Aoun tweeted.
"We will not accept that he remain a hostage and that we do not know the reasons for his detention," he added.
There have been rumours that Hariri had been detained along with dozens of Saudis in what Riyadh says is an anti-corruption campaign.
Shortly after Aoun's statement, Hariri also took to Twitter in an apparent bid to quell rumours of his detention.
"I want to repeat and confirm: I am totally, totally fine and I'll come back, God willing, to beloved Lebanon like I promised you all. You'll see," he wrote.
'Attack on Lebanon'
Macron has stressed that Hariri should be able to return to Lebanon to confirm, or not, his resignation.
In his sharply worded resignation from Saudi Arabia, Hariri, 47, accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hizballah of destabilising his country and the broader region.
The statement sparked concern that tiny Lebanon would be caught in the crosshairs of rising tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.
Lebanon's president on Wednesday sought to allay those fears, telling citizens, "do not be afraid, whether economically, financially or in terms of security".
While he was guarded in his first reactions to Hariri's absence, Aoun has since stepped up the rhetoric.
"What happened wasn't a resignation - it was an attack on Lebanon's independence and dignity," he said Wednesday, adding that Hariri's absence represented "a violation of the international declaration of human rights".
Aoun, 82, has yet to formally accept Hariri's resignation and has said he will not do so before meeting him in person in Lebanon.
In his first media appearance since he stepped down, Hariri, looking downcast and tired, denied he was being held against his will in the kingdom and said he was compelled to resign to save Lebanon from imminent dangers, which he didn't specify.
He held back tears at one point and repeated several times that he resigned to create a "positive shock" and draw attention to the danger of siding with Iran, Hizballah's main patron, in regional conflicts.
European nations and the US have not pointed the finger at Saudi authorities directly, but have expressed public concern about Hariri's absence and warned against attempts to interfere in Lebanon's fragile democracy.
"What's at stake is Mr Hariri being able to return home freely to clarify his situation in line with the Lebanese constitution," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament in Paris.
The EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday that European diplomats had "close contacts" with Hariri and also expected him to return home "in the coming days".