Under pressure, Beirut hunts suspects

Lebanon has been hunting for six suspects over the killing of former premier Rafiq al-Hariri as the Syrian-backed government faces escalating calls to stand down and Washington issued more stark warnings to Damascus.

    Mourners continue to flock to al-Hariri's home for a fifth day

    On Friday banks and shops reopened for business after a three-day mourning period for al-Hariri, whose assassination in a massive bomb blast in Beirut on Monday sent shockwaves through the country and added to tensions with its political masters in Syria.

    Lebanon's anti-Damascus opposition was to hold a meeting on Friday to rally a mass public mobilisation after the killing of the man behind the country's post-war revival, while Syrian-backed President Emile Lahud was to hold a cabinet meeting.

    "The regime should take the political initiative of opening up to the opposition by declaring its readiness to meet its demand in forming a special government to run and supervise the legislative elections," said prominent former prime minister Salim al-Huss. The elections are due in May.

    International investigation

    Despite the ban on government officials at the funeral, Aljazeera learned Lahud paid his condolences to the al-Hariri family on Friday as thousands of mourners continued to flock to al-Hariri's grave and his home for the fifth consecutive day.

    The al-Hariri family had banned the Lebanese government from taking part in the funeral.

    Lahud (R) offered his 
    condolences to al-Hariri's sons

    US President George Bush, whose administration recalled its ambassador in Damascus over the killing, heightened warnings to Syria and joined the al-Hariri family in calling for an international investigation.

    Justice Minister Adnan Addum said the authorities were on the trail of six suspects who flew from Beirut to Australia, hours after al-Hariri's assassination, leaving traces of explosives on aircraft seats.

    The Ad Diyar newspaper, among others, called on the government to take steps to calm the "atmosphere of dangerous divisions" engulfing the country, including the resignation of Lahud and the government of pro-Syrian Prime Minister Umar Karami.

    "This government cannot go on, Prime Minister Karami is mistaken if he does not resign. This is a national duty," said Ad Diyar.

    National reconciliation

    "As for President Lahud who has previously called for a national conference, it is clear that his political role is finished because he is incapable of bringing together the loyalists and the opposition in order to achieve national reconciliation," it said.

    "The day will come when we will sweep away the dirt of this criminal, collaborating regime, a regime of terrorism"

    Walid Jumblatt, leader of Druze

    The Ash-Sharq daily said: "It is absolutely not shameful for the regime to take the decision to leave power in line with the desires of the citizens.

    "There is no other solution but the departure of the regime so that a new regime capable of dealing with the difficult situation in the country could be elected."

    Leading Druze opposition figure Walid Jumblatt delivered a virulent attack on the government, pledging that "the day will come when we will sweep away the dirt of this criminal, collaborating regime, a regime of terrorism".

    Jumblatt called on Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to re-examine Lebanese-Syrian relations "not out of fear, but in the interests of both countries. We are ready for dialogue, putting behind us our wounds and the blood of Rafiq al-Hariri."


    The Lebanese opposition widely blame their government and the government in Syria for the murder of al-Hariri, their five-time prime minister who quit in October in a row with Lahud over the role of Damascus.

    Lebanese officials say the attack was probably carried out by a bomber but some have speculated that, given the widespread damage and force of the blast, the explosives could have been planted under the road before al-Hariri's convoy passed.

    Fifteen people were killed and about 100 wounded in the blast that ripped through al-Hariri's motorcade on Beirut's seafront on Monday, causing the worst carnage seen in Beirut since the 1975-1990 civil war.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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