Lebanese minister resigns to ease the crisis with the Saudis | World news

By ZEINA KARAM and SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanese Information Minister resigned on Friday, saying he hoped the long-awaited move would pave the way for a resolution of an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries of the Gulf. This crisis has added to the immense economic problems facing Lebanon, already mired in financial collapse.

Minister George Kordahi, a prominent former game show host, said he made the decision to step down ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The resignation, Kordahi said at a press conference in the Lebanese capital, could help the French leader start a dialogue to help restore Beirut-Riyadh relations.

The crisis erupted following Kordahi’s televised comments in October that criticized Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The kingdom recalled its ambassador from Beirut and banned all Lebanese imports in response to Kordahi’s remarks, affecting hundreds of businesses and cutting off hundreds of millions of foreign exchange in Lebanon.

Initially, the minister said he did not want to offend comments, made before his cabinet appointment, and refused to resign, prolonging the crisis.

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“The interests of my country, my people and my relatives are above mine. Lebanon is more important than George Kordahi,” he said at the press conference on Friday. “I hope that this resignation opens the window, or a breach in this wall” for better relations with the Arab Gulf countries, he added.

The diplomatic row over Kordahi has deepened Lebanon’s economic crisis, the worst in its modern history. The country’s financial crisis, coupled with multiple other crises, has plunged more than three-quarters of the country’s 6 million people, including one million Syrian refugees, into poverty.

The standoff with Saudi Arabia, a traditional supporter of the small Mediterranean country, has further crippled the Lebanese government, which has been unable to meet since October 12 due to reports that ministers allied with Hezbollah would resign if Kordahi was leaving.

The Saudi measures have caused anxiety, especially among the many Lebanese who work in the Arab Gulf countries, and have added to the country’s economic woes. It is not clear whether Kordahi’s resignation would appease Saudi Arabia enough to reverse its rulings and prevent further escalation, or whether it would open the door to resuming Lebanese Cabinet meetings.

The Lebanese government, led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, is embroiled in yet another crisis sparked when the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group protested the state’s ongoing investigation into the massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year.

Hezbollah criticized Tarek Bitar, the investigating judge, saying his investigation was politicized and called on the government to ensure his removal. Local media reported that there had been mediations to trade Bitar’s withdrawal from the investigation with Kordahi’s resignation.

Kordahi’s resignation comes ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Macron supports the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and has taken the lead in the international community by helping the small country in the Middle East, a former French protectorate.

“I understood the French wanted me to resign before Macron went to Riyadh, which would help, perhaps paving the way for dialogue,” Kordahi said.

A senior French presidential official, speaking to reporters earlier this week ahead of Macron’s trip to the Gulf, said the president would discuss strengthening cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. ” to prevent Lebanon from sinking further “. The official spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, in accordance with policy.

Kordahi has previously said he would be ready to step down if there are any guarantees his resignation will work.

Saudi officials said the crisis went beyond Kordahi’s comments and was rooted in the kingdom’s unease over Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon. The tiny Mediterranean country has been caught in the midst of a years-old regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Its relations with Saudi Arabia have steadily deteriorated in recent years.

Kordahi, in the TV interview, said the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition. The conflict began with the 2014 takeover of Yemen’s capital Sana’a by Houthi rebels, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition went to war the following year, determined to restore the internationally recognized government and oust the rebels.

Kordahi said on Friday he was resigning even though he was not convinced it was necessary, adding that “Lebanon does not deserve this treatment” from Saudi Arabia.

“What bothered me most was how a whole people were held responsible for words I said with good intentions, in all honesty and with love,” he said.

He said he ultimately decided to resign because he refused to be “the reason to harm Lebanon and the Lebanese in the Gulf and other places”.

Associated Press reporter Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed to this report.

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