Lahoud objects to int'l court on Hariri murder

Lebanon's pro-Syrian president's security chiefs under arrest in connection with 2005 assassination.

October 31, 2006 03:03
2 minute read.
portrait of rafik hariri 298.88

rafik hariri 298.88. (photo credit: AP)

Lebanon's pro-Syrian president objected on Monday to the draft document setting up an international court to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, and declared no agreement can pass without his approval. President Emile Lahoud, whose security chiefs are under arrest in connection with the 2005 assassination, said in a statement he had multiple objections to the draft. Under the constitution, Lahoud said, the president in agreement with the prime minister must approve any deal before it goes to Cabinet for approval. "It ends there" if the president disapproves, he said. A UN investigation into Hariri's killing has implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials, a charge Syria denies. The UN handed Lebanese authorities last month a draft document spelling out details of the structure and legal framework for the international tribunal. Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive truck bombing in Beirut in February 2005, sparking large anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and leading, along with international pressure, to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon that ended a 29-year military presence. Elections afterward brought an anti-Syrian majority to Parliament and Cabinet but Lahoud has refused to step down before the end of his term in 2007, and his opponents lack the votes to oust him. The issue of an international court comes amid heightened political tensions between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Lebanon. The anti-Syrian camp says the mounting campaign against western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and recent threats of street protests are a way to undermine the planned international court. Pro-Syrian groups, led by the Hizbullah guerrilla, say they want a stronger role in running the country after the war with Israel in the summer. Lahoud's opponents quickly accused the president on Monday of seeking to stall the formation of the court to escape prosecution. "Since when does the suspect becomes a judge in choosing the court before which he will stand?" asked Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh. The minister accused Lahoud of involvement in Hariri's assassination and said in a statement that the president's objections were "political scandal and legal heresy." He claimed that it was an attempt by Syrian authorities, through Lahoud, to undermine or delay the formation of the court. Four generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs under Lahoud including his Presidential Guard commander, have been under arrest for 14 months, accused of involvement in Hariri's murder. The UN investigation has interviewed the Lebanese president and has implicated top Syrian officials. Among Lahoud's objections to the court, he listed the fact more foreign judges than Lebanese were to be appointed. Lahoud said such a court would be unprecedented. "We cannot make Lebanon at these difficult times in the region a field for testing and experimenting," he said. A draft of the resolution creating the court has been circulated to the five permanent members of the Security Council. But a diplomat at the UN said council members disagree on how to name the judges. Russia, a close ally of Syria, wants the Security Council to pick the judges so that Moscow - a veto yielding council member - has more control, the diplomat said. Europeans and Americans want the UN Secretary-General to oversee the judges' nomination, said the UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations are private.

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