Lebanese Cardinal Rai arrives in Saudi Arabia on historic trip

Lebanese Cardinal Rai arrives in Saudi Arabia on historic trip

By Bassem Mroue/ AP

The head of Lebanon's Maronite Catholic community arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, November 13, in the first public visit by a Lebanese official since Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his sudden resignation nine days ago.

Cardinal Bechara Rai's visit, the first ever by a Maronite patriarch to the kingdom according to the cardinal, has taken on special significance since Hariri announced his resignation in a surprise statement broadcast from Riyadh on November 4. The prime minister has not returned to Lebanon since.

Cardinal Rai is expected to meet with Hariri, as well as Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad, during his two-day visit.

Hariri's shock resignation after less than a year as premier mystified Lebanon and led to speculation by some media outlets and politicians that he was forced into it by the Gulf kingdom.

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 last year.

Cardinal Rai told reporters at Beirut's international airport that Hariri's return would restore normalcy in Lebanon.

Rai heads the Maronite sect, Lebanon's largest Christian community and the Middle East's largest Catholic church, which enjoys wide influence in the country.

"The Lebanese people have been waiting for him (Hariri) to return because the situation has come to a stop and the Lebanese people have been unsettled," Cardinal Rai said. "They (the Lebanese) will not rest until he returns so that life returns to normal."

"We will carry these concerns to the king and crown prince and wish well," he said.

Rai and Saudi Charge d'Affaires Walid Bukhari said the kingdom is not likely to deport Lebanese citizens as punishment for the participation of the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanese politics.

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 09:22
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