Lebanese groups urge president to quit

A coalition of Lebanese groups, angered by the recent assassination of a prominent anti-Syrian journalist, have called for the removal of Emile Lahoud, Lebanon's Syrian-allied president.

    A sit-in was held in Beirut outside An-Nahar's offices on Monday

    The call came as anti-Syrian youth activists protested in Lebanon's capital, Beirut, late on Monday to press for Lahoud's resignation and removal of what they consider to be pro-Syrian agents in Lebanon's security services.
    Monday's meeting of the coalition of anti-Syrian legislators and politicians came after Gibran Tueni, An-Nahar newspaper's general manager and Lebanese legislator, was killed in a 12 December car bombing.

    Tueni was the third critic of Syria slain in similar circumstances since the 14 February blast that killed Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister, in Beirut.

    Al-Hariri's killing sparked massive protests by Lebanese who accused Syria of involvement. The anti-Syrian sentiment forced Syria to withdraw its thousands of soldiers from Lebanon in April.

    Siham Asseily (C), Tueni's widow,
    with others at Monday's sit-in

    A statement issued by protest organisers in the northern city of Tripoli demanded Lahoud's resignation and blamed Syrian and allied-Lebanese security services for Tueni's assassination.

    Hour of silence

    Hundreds of Tueni's supporters, mainly journalists from An-Nahar and other media outlets, joined the victim's widow, Siham Asseily, and his two daughters, Nayla and Michelle, in a sit-in on Monday outside the An-Nahar building in central Beirut, observing an hour's silence.
    "We call on all those who participated in the independence uprising to continue the battle and to oust the remnants of the security regime from the positions they are still holding, namely the presidency position," Samir Franjieh, a legislator, said in a statement after the meeting.

    Franjieh was referring to the estimated one million people who participated in a mass anti-Syrian demonstration in central Beirut on 14 March.

    Lahoud (L) is regarded as Syria's
    highest-placed ally in Lebanon

    Syria has rejected accusations of involvement in the killings. But a UN inquiry has implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in al-Hariri's death.

    The coalition's statement also urged the government of Fuad Siniora to be on "full alert to confront the war launched by the Syrian regime against Lebanon", the late al-Hariri's Future Television reported.

    Lahoud has repeatedly rejected previous calls to resign, vowing to remain in office until his renewed mandate expires in 2007. Officials from his office were not immediately available for comment.

    UN investigator

    In other news, a Belgian prosecutor with the International Criminal Court probably will take over the UN investigation into the death of al-Hariri, UN officials and diplomats said on Monday.

    Serge Brammertz, the deputy prosecutor of The Hague-based court, would replace German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who has announced he would leave the inquiry as soon as a replacement is chosen.

    Mehlis (L) implicated Syrian and
    Lebanese officials in his reports

    Barring a last-minute hitch, the appointment of Brammertz, a former federal prosecutor of Belgium, was expected to be announced on Tuesday or Wednesday, the envoys said on condition of anonymity.

    Brammertz would take a leave of absence from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was set up more than two years ago to prosecute individuals suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

    He was appointed to his ICC position in November 2003 for a six-year term and has had experience in chasing down terrorists in Belgium.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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