Lebanese cabinet hails inquiry by UN

The Lebanese cabinet has hailed a UN inquiry implicating Syrian officials and their former Lebanese counterparts in the February murder of five-time premier Rafiq al-Hariri but stopped short of calling for a trial by an international court.

    A special session discussed the UN al-Hariri investigation (file)

    "The report lived up to the hopes of the Lebanese people ... it provides the basis for finding the truth ... and punishing those responsible," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

    But asked whether ministers wanted to see a trial before an international tribunal, he said: "It's still too early to discuss this question as the UN commission has yet to complete its inquiry."

    'The truth'

    Al-Hariri's son Saad al-Hariri has called for an international court to take up the case into his father's murder after the report by UN investigators implicated security officials in both Lebanon and Syria.

    Saad al-Hariri has called for an
    international court

    The extraordinary cabinet meeting was called after "intensive contacts" by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora with key political figures, including pro-Damascus President Emile Lahoud, an official source said.

    The UN Security Council is preparing to meet on Tuesday to consider its own response.

    Siniora, Rafiq al-Hariri's veteran right-hand man, whose government came to power amid the public outcry over his killing, had "thanked the United Nations for its efforts to reach the truth," Aridi said.

    Lahoud under pressure

    He pledged that "whatever happens, it will in no way affect the fraternal relations and cooperation between the Lebanese and Syrian peoples."

    The report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis was released on Thursday. It cited "converging evidence" of Syrian and Lebanese involvement and accused Damascus of blocking and misleading the investigation.

    Pressure is mounting on President
    Emile Lahoud to step down

    Lahoud has been under mounting pressure to stand down after the 14 February bomb blast on the Beirut seafront that killed al-Hariri and 20 others.

    Four high-ranking former security officials with close ties to Syria, including the head of the presidential guard, are in custody over the murder.

    Lahoud was forced to deny on Friday claims that he had received a phone call from one of the suspects minutes before the blast.

    'A big lie'

    Syria has denied involvement in the killing and its UN ambassador, Faisal Mekdad, dismissed the report as "a big lie."

    US President George Bush called the Mehlis report "deeply disturbing" and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Syria had to be held accountable for its "involvement".

    "This issue is not one for the street but must be the subject of dialogue and political consensus to make sure the situation does not degenerate and put the country's stability at risk"

    Opposition leader Michel Aoun

    Saad al-Hariri, majority leader in the Lebanese parliament, called for "taking (the case) to an international tribunal capable of
    punishing the criminal culprits".

    "The report issued by the international probe commission is the main first step in the process to uncover the truth ... to reach justice that alone can satisfy the Lebanese people," he said in a televised speech.

    He also warned that the results of the investigation "will not be subject to any compromise ... because the blood of the Lebanese, and the blood of Rafiq al-Hariri and his companions are not subject to ... political compromise."

    Demands for resignation

    A spokesman said the president, whose term was extended for three years in September 2004 under pressure from Syria, intends to complete his mandate.

    But former member of Parliament Nassib Lahoud, who is of no relation to the president, said the Mehlis report should "reinforce the determination of the Lebanese to obtain the resignation of President Lahoud".

    "The report accuses the close associates of the president," he added.

    The Muslim Brotherhood called for the "resignation of the president after publication of the evidence" in the report.

    Carlos Edde, leader of the National Bloc Christian party, demanded that he resign immediately. 

    But Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun said Lahoud should not resign under pressure from the street.

    "This issue is not one for the street but must be the subject of dialogue and political consensus to make sure the situation does not degenerate and put the country's stability at risk," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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