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Lebanon: Mikati says beleaguered minister must 'prioritise national interest'

Information minister George Kordahi reported to have again refused to resign following Prime Minister Najib Mikati's appeal
Kordahi is the former host of the Arabic version of the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (AFP)

Lebanon's beleaguered information minister George Kordahi has reportedly reiterated that he will not resign after Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday again called on him to "prioritise national interest" following controversy caused by his remarks on Yemen's civil war.

"I repeat calls for the information minister to listen to his conscience and put circumstances into consideration and take the stance he should take," Mikati, who stopped short of calling on Kordahi to quit, said in a public speech.

Kordahi said on Thursday that he would not resign and that his position had not changed over the remarks, Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV quoted him as saying.

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Saudi Arabia and four other Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, recalled their envoys to Lebanon after Kordahi's critical comments on the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen were aired last week.

Riyadh also banned all imports from the cash-strapped country.

In an interview recorded in August and aired last week, Kordahi, the former host of the Arabic version of the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? said Houthi rebels in Yemen were "defending themselves… against an external aggression", sparking angry rebukes from Saudi Arabia.

He described the years-long war as "futile" and called the conflict "absurd".

'Out of the question'

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the UAE, have led a military coalition fighting against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in the country since 2015.

Lebanon's government has said Kordahi's statements reflect his own personal opinion and not the official policy of Beirut.

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Dismissing calls to step down, Kordahi said on Sunday that resigning was "out of the question".

The comments by the relatively obscure minister have drawn praise from the embattled Houthis and Iran.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Kordahi's remarks were a "symptom" of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah's grip on Lebanon.

NBN TV,  the official television of the Lebanese Amal Movement, reported that Hezbollah had renewed its backing of Kordahi on Thursday, accusing Saudi Arabia of "fabricating a crisis".

The diplomatic situation poses a new challenge for Mikati's government, paralysed since 12 October by a split over attempts by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Mikati said the cabinet would not intervene in judicial matters, indicating a continued rift in government over the issue.