Lebanon PM Hariri says resignation on hold pending talks

The surprise announcement coincided with Lebanon's Independence Day

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sings the Lebanese national anthem with thousands of his supporters who rallying outside his residence in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. Hariri said he was putting his resignation on hold responding to a request from the president to give more time to consultations. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri said on Wednesday he had accepted a request from president Michel Aoun to “postpone” his resignation pending talks.

It came just hours after Mr Hariri's much anticipated return to Beirut and followed a meeting between the two men and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berry at Baabda Palace, the official residence of the president.

“President Aoun asked me to reconsider my resignation before making any new moves and also asked me to discuss reasons behind that resignation. I agreed to co-operate,” Mr Hariri said in remarks broadcast live on national television.

Mr Hariri announced his shock resignation from Riyadh on November 4, citing the influence of Hizbollah and Iran on his country. But Mr Aoun had refused to recognise Mr Hariri's decision or take further action until he returned to Lebanon.

The prime minister arrived back in Beirut late on Tuesday — 17 days after his resignation and just in time for Lebanon's Independence Day celebrations the following day.

On Wednesday morning, Mr Hariri was the star of the annual military parade through the capital, with former and current presidents and ministers all turning out to welcome him back.

When Mr Berry arrived to watch the parade from a platform he saluted Mr Hariri warmly and sat next to him. The two men were then joined by Mr Aoun whose arrival was met with the firing of 21 blank artillery shells.

The parade, which lasted for around two hours, was initiated by music performed by the military orchestra. Various military units — including female-only units — then marched in front of the platform where Mr Berry, Mr Hariri and Mr Aoun were seated with the three men engaging in conversation and hesitant giggling.

It was not clear what the three men were discussing but they could be seen breaking into smiles periodically.

Armoured units were among those taking part in the show. This year's highlight was the Bradley American armoured vehicles acquired by the Lebanese army earlier this year. Anti-tank missiles, tanks and mobile artillery were also paraded.

Meanwhile, helicopters scanned the skies of Beirut.

Mr Hariri, Mr Berry and Mr Aoun's next stop after the parade was Baabda Palace where the prime minister had been expected to officially hand his resignation to the president. But the plan had changed.

In his second shock announcement of recent weeks, Mr Hariri said he would be postponing his resignation, stressing the need for a “new national political dialogue” in Lebanon.

The three men were not alone at the palace. In an awkward moment caught on camera, Mr Hariri avoided shaking the hand of the Syrian ambassador in a room flooded with visitors.

Writing on Twitter shortly after, the prime minister said Lebanon was "in need of exceptional efforts from all parties to immunise its fronts at this very critical stage, nationally, to face all challenges and risks".

"Self-exclusion is one of the main needed obligations," he said. "We must exclude ourselves from what threatens the stability of our country and the brotherly relationships with other fellow Arabs."

Moving on, he said he was "looking forward to a true partnership with all various political parties and powers".

"Our priority today should be the supreme and best interests of Lebanon despite all other interests, also, we must preserve the coexistence of Lebanese among one another, and we must maintain the path needed to re-build our state.

"Lebanese citizens handed [Lebanon's trusteeship] to Lebanese parties and powers and leaderships to guard with their conscience," Mr Hariri said. "We shouldn't take this trust for granted."

At a rally in Beirut's Central District later in the day, hundreds of people turned out to show their support for Mr Hariri as he promised to stay in the country.

Holding flags of his Future Movement party in their hands, they marched towards the prime minister's downtown residence where he then addressed them from a small stage outside his front door.

"I'm staying with you," he told the crowds. "We're continuing together, to be the first line of defence for Lebanon and its stability."

"We don't have anything that is more precious than Lebanon," he added.

The prime minister joined the crowds in singing the Lebanese national anthem before shaking hands and taking selfies with some of the supporters.