BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, whose mysterious sojourn in Saudi Arabia has shaken the Middle East, said in a television interview on Sunday night that he was free to leave, that he had left Lebanon in order to protect himself and that he would return home “within days.”
But the remarks — his first in public since he unexpectedly flew to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 3 and announced his resignation from there a day later — seemed unlikely to clear up the confusion and tension over whether he had acted freely, whether he was in effect a hostage of the Saudis, and whether he had been pressured to resign as part of a larger strategy by the Saudis to increase pressure on their regional rival, Iran.
Those who have questions about his situation were unlikely to be persuaded by the interview carried on the channel of Mr. Hariri’s pro-Saudi political party by Paula Yacoubian, a talk-show host who generally hews to the Saudi line.
At least five Lebanese televisions stations refused to carry the interview, amid concerns over whether Mr. Hariri was able to speak freely.
Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, had said earlier that anything Mr. Hariri says from Saudi Arabia “does not reflect the truth, and is but the result of the mysterious and dubious situation he is undergoing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and hence cannot be taken seriously.”
“I’m free, I could leave tomorrow,” Mr. Hariri told Ms. Yacoubian. He added, however, that information had come to light while he was in Riyadh that persuaded him that he needed to review his security arrangements before returning.
He had said in his resignation speech on Nov. 4 that there were threats against his life and that he was quitting because of interference in Lebanon by Iran and the dominance of its ally, the Lebanese Shiite militant group and political party, Hezbollah, which is part of the unity cabinet he led.
But in the interview, he seemed to leave open the question of whether his resignation was final. He said he would resign in person in the proper constitutional manner, but also that he would hold conversations with Mr. Aoun and others, and that he could possibly stay in office if Lebanon could follow a policy of neutrality in the region.
The interview came hours after a record number of people had taken part in the annual Beirut Marathon, which for many became a kind of statement of defiance against international interference in Lebanon, by any country.
People passed out baseball caps with slogans like “bring back our PM,” or prime minister. The marathon is always billed as a statement of unity and resilience and given the regional tensions, Sunday’s was even more so.
Around 47,000 people — more than ever — showed up to run in the marathon and a number of shorter races, according to organizers.
“We are all Saad” and “Running for you” were among the slogans that appeared on placards, posters and billboards.
“It’s a mark of defiance against the forces of evil, against the forces on every side that want to interfere with Lebanon,” Imad Shehadi, a plastic surgeon, said after running the 1K race with his wife and two sons.
“To me it’s more resilience — the resilience of Lebanon and the Lebanese people, who just want to live life, no matter what,” said his wife, Carla Shehadi.