Macron invites Hariri, family to France

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Macron said he was not offering Hariri political "exile", but that it was paramount to dispel fears that Saudi Arabia had taken the Lebanese premier prisoner.

An official in the French president's office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be named publicly, said Hariri is expected to travel to France in the coming days with his family.

Rafik Al-Hariri, initially a businessman, was the Prime Minister of Lebanon between 1992 and 1998, and again since 2000 until his resignation in 2004.

Hariri said on Sunday he would return to Lebanon "within days" to resolve issues with the militant group Hezbollah, his rivals in a coalition government formed previous year.

"We need to have leaders who are free to express themselves", said Macron.

Le Drian later met with Hariri.

Hariri's interview on Sunday night, carried by Future TV, a channel associated with his political party, raised some new questions.

Mr. Jubeir said domestic anti-corruption investigations which have netted senior princes, officials and businessmen in the past two weeks were ongoing. However, both Hariri and Saudi officials have denied any coercion or forced detention. 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.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile ratcheted up the rhetoric against Saudi Arabia, his country's main regional rival, saying the kingdom pressured Hariri to resign in a "rare" intervention in another nation's affairs. Hezbollah had increased inside and outside of Lebanon.

Saad al-Hariri, a Saudi ally, resigned as Lebanon's prime minister on November 4, citing an assassination plot and accusing Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife in the region.

In his resignation statement, Hariri accused Iran and its ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the broader region.

France, Lebanon's onetime colonial ruler, has been trying to mediate the crisis.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun welcomed Hariri's statements and said he hoped the prime minister would return to Lebanon soon.

On Wednesday, Macron invited Hariri and his family to come to France, apparently as a way to put an end to allegations that the prime minister is being held against his will.