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Tuesday November 21st, 2017 8:50AM

The Latest: Lebanon minister says probe 'libelous' Saudis

By The Associated Press
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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments surrounding Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri who resigned from Riyadh last week and the crisis between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon (all times local):

8:15 p.m.

Lebanon's Justice Minister has asked the country's prosecutor general to launch an investigation against two Saudi citizens who appeared on a TV talk show and branded the Lebanese president and parliament speakers as "terrorists."

Salim Jreissati wrote in a two-page letter Friday to the prosecutor that the two men, Ibrahim Al Merhi and Adwan al-Ahmari, have engaged in libel against top officials including President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

The move comes at a time when tensions are high between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia over last week's resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Al Merhi and al-Ahmari appeared Thursday night on Kalam Ennas, one of the most watched weekly TV programs in Lebanon.

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7:30 p.m.

Lebanese police officials say a Saudi citizen has gone missing in Lebanon and search operations are ongoing to find him.

The officials say that Syrian citizen Ivine Hassan informed police that her Saudi husband Ali Shamrawi has been missing since Thursday night, adding that he was missing north of Beirut. The Saudi man resides in Lebanon.

It was not immediately clear if the kidnapping is related to rising tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia over last week's resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk was quoted as saying by local media outlets Friday that safety of all foreigners is a priority for authorities adding that the stability of Lebanon is a "red line."

Some local TV stations said Shamrawi's family received a call from unknown persons demanding a $1 million in return for Shamrawi's release.

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7:35 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri should return to the country to make his resignation "official."

Hariri mysteriously resigned last Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, fueling rumors he's being held there against his will. Tillerson says he's seen "no indication that is the case."

But Tillerson says if Hariri wants to step down, he needs to "go back to Lebanon" and formally resign "so that the government of Lebanon can function properly."

Tillerson says he's spoken about Hariri's situation with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister. He says the Saudi diplomat assured him that Hariri's decision was "taken solely by him."

Tillerson is also warning parties inside and outside Lebanon not to use the country as "a venue for proxy conflicts." He's alluding to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, as well as to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Tillerson spoke aboard his plane as he flew from China to Vietnam.

___

5:30 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it's essential that peace is preserved in Lebanon, warning that a new conflict could have "devastating consequences" in the region.

The U.N. chief told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday that he has been having "very intense contacts" at the political and diplomatic level with Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but also with other countries in the region "or with an influence in the region."

Guterres said he has been telling the political leaders and diplomats that it is important to preserve Lebanon's unity and stability "and the functioning of the Lebanese institutions."

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri mysteriously resigned from the Saudi capital last Saturday, throwing the tiny nation into turmoil and leading to rumors that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

"We are indeed very worried," Guterres said, "and we hope that we won't see an escalation in the region that would have tragic consequences."

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4:45 p.m.

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader says war with Israel is unlikely amid the crisis facing his country following the resignation of its prime minister in an announcement made from Saudi Arabia.

Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that his powerful militant group is watching carefully for any Israeli attempts to use the crisis to begin hostilities against Lebanon. Nasrallah says Israel is cautious and unlikely to make such a move.

Nasrallah is calming an apparently jittery population following Saudi Arabia's escalation against Hezbollah's patron Iran. The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia last week was seen as a move by Riyadh to take its rivalry with Iran to the tiny Lebanon.

Many fear the escalation will pave the way for Israel to strike against Hezbollah, against which Israel has fought a number of wars. Nasrallah warned Israel against "miscalculation" or "taking advantage of the situation."

He said Israel should not think "we are troubled. No, absolutely not."

"Today we are more confident and feeling stronger in the face of any threat," said Nasrallah.

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4:30 p.m.

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says the country's prime minister is currently detained in Saudi Arabia and that his "forced" resignation is unconstitutional because it was done "under duress."

Speaking on Friday, Nasrallah said he was certain that Saad Hariri, who resigned last week in an address from Saudi Arabia, was forced to so as part of the kingdom's policy of meddling in Lebanon's affairs.

He said Hariri is being prevented by Saudi officials from returning to Lebanon, adding that his detention should not be accepted

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3:35 p.m.

Germany is calling on Saudi Arabia and Iran not to undermine Lebanon's stability following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called his Saudi counterpart Thursday to highlight the need to safeguard Lebanon's stability.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Friday that when discussing Lebanon "it's also necessary to talk about the role of Iran."

Seibert noted that Tehran has influence over Hezbollah and its support for the Shiite militia is viewed by Germany "with great concern."

He said that Germany "of course appeals to both countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, not to weaken the political stability in Lebanon."

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1:50 p.m.

A French official says that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has told foreign ambassadors that he is not a prisoner in Saudi Arabia, where he has been holed up since an unusual resignation announcement.

An official in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Friday that the French and U.S. ambassadors in Saudi Arabia met with Hariri, and that Hariri "says he is not a prisoner, the (Saudi crown) prince says he is not a prisoner."

Macron paid a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday night and met with the crown prince, notably about rising tensions in Lebanon, a former French protectorate.

The official said Hariri did not ask to see Macron during the visit and that French officials "don't have any specific signs" that the Lebanese prime minister's life is in danger.

The official was not authorized to be publicly named according to presidential policy.

—Sylvie Corbet in Paris

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12:50 p.m.

A senior Lebanese official says Beirut has formally told Saudi Arabia that the way Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned — in a televised statement from Riyadh — is "unacceptable" and requested his return to the country.

The official says the Lebanese position was conveyed by President Michel Aoun to the Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon, Walid al-Bukhari, at the presidential palace on Friday.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Aoun was meeting with foreign ambassadors to discuss Hariri's abrupt resignation last Saturday. Hariri, who cited Iran's meddling in the region, has not returned to Lebanon since.

The resignation has thrown the tiny nation in turmoil and officials have demanded his return, suspecting he is being held in the Saudi capital against his will.

—Zeina Karam in Beirut.

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12:35 p.m.

Scores of citizens from Gulf Arab countries have started leaving Lebanon after their governments ordered them out of the Mediterranean country amid a major Riyadh-Beirut crisis.

Dozens of men and women from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain were seen leaving Lebanon on Friday morning through Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates have ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country Saturday when he announced in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia that he was resigning. The unexpected move led to rumors that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

___

11:10 a.m.

France's foreign minister says French authorities believe Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri is "free in his movements" and not in custody in Saudi Arabia.

Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe-1 radio on Friday that "to our knowledge" Hariri is not being held by Saudi authorities. Hariri abruptly announced his resignation last week in a television appearance from Saudi Arabia, and has not returned to his country since.

Le Drian said Hariri traveled from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates and back earlier this week "so we think he is free in his movements, and it is up to him to make his choices."

Le Drian's office wouldn't say where the French information came from.

French President Emmanuel Macron discussed Lebanon, a former French protectorate, during a surprise visit Thursday to Riyadh.

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