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Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri returns home after shock resignation

BEIRUT -- Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has returned to Beirut more than two weeks after announcing while in Saudi Arabia that he had resigned his post.

The shock announcement set off speculation that Hariri had been forced to step down by the Gulf kingdom and was being held there against his will. But he left Saudi Arabia for Paris on Saturday by invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, before traveling on to Beirut by way of Egypt and Cyprus.

Hariri arrived in a private jet from Cyprus on Tuesday night, after meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Hariri was leading a coalition government with his political opponents in the militant group Hezbollah when he stunned Lebanon by announcing his resignation in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4. He accused Hezbollah of holding Lebanon hostage and hinted there was a plot against his life.

Last week, Hariri said on Future TV that he had resigned to protect Lebanon from imminent danger, although he didn't specify who was threatening the country.

"I am free," Hariri told the interviewer, apparently seeking to show he was not being detained by the Saudis. He said he would return to Lebanon "in days."

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He spoke after pressure from Lebanese officials, who said his resignation was not accepted because it was declared in Saudi Arabia.

Many Lebanese have suspected Hariri was placed under house arrest as part of a Saudi plan to unravel a coalition government he had formed last year with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.

But he said his resignation was his decision, dismissing reports he was forced to quit a unity government with Hezbollah.

His resignation was designed to "cause a positive shock" in Lebanon, Hariri said, warning against what he said was Iranian interference that is ruining relations with other Arab countries.

Lebanon President Michel Aoun said before the interview that the "mysterious circumstances for Hariri's stay in the Saudi capital of Riaydh makes all his positions questionable and in doubt and not of his own volition."

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