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Lebanon’s foreign minister quits over anti-Saudi remarks

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BEIRUT: Lebanon foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stepped down on Wednesday and was swiftly replaced after comments he made irked Saudi Arabia, as cash-strapped Beirut scrambles to avoid a diplomatic fallout with the wealthy Gulf state.

Wehbe said in a televised debate on Monday that the Islamic State (IS) group’s rise in the region had been engineered by Gulf states, prompting Lebanese ambassadors in several countries to be summoned.

Lebanon’s leaders have since tried to put out the fire and the 67-year-old announced in a brief statement after meeting President Michel Aoun that he had asked “to be relieved of his duties”.

Hours later, Aoun appointed defence minister Zeina Akar as Wehbe’s replacement, the presidency said in a statement.

President Aoun asked Akar — who is also deputy prime minister — “to proceed with her duties as acting foreign minister” as well as her original portfolio.

The Gulf’s relations with Lebanon have become frostier over the rising political influence of the Shia group Hezbollah but Beirut is seeking fresh financial support from its former allies.

After his altercation with a Saudi guest on Al-Hurra TV on Monday, Wehbe stormed off the set saying he would not be “insulted by a Bedouin”.

His exit will likely go down as the most remarkable point of a tenure during which he was Lebanon’s active foreign minister only for seven days.

Wehbe served for the last 282 days as part of a caretaker government that resigned en masse following a devastating explosion in Beirut port last August. Lebanon is witnessing unprecedented poverty and cannot guarantee power supply past the month of June.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021

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