Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Lebanese demand assassination probe

CONDEMNATION The massive turnout for the former prime minister's funeral on Wednesday is seen as a vote of no-confidence in Lebanon's pro-Syrian government


Calls intensified in Lebanon and abroad for Rafik Hariri's assassins to be caught, while pressure mounted against Syria amid increasing speculation over its perceived role in the killing of the popular former prime minister, whose burial was attended by more than 200,000 mourners.

The Hariri family yesterday called on the Arab and international community to back a UN Security Council demand for a probe into his slaying.

"We pledge that the blood of Rafiq Hariri and his comrades will not have been shed in vain and we will not spare any effort to unmask those who ordered this crime, no matter their position," a family statement said.

"We call on the Arab and the international communities to implement the declaration of the president of the Security Council identify and punish the culprits within a short and reasonable time," the family said.

Monday's assassination of Hariri, 60, in a huge bomb blast claimed 16 other lives and increased tensions in Lebanon and its neighboring powerbroker, Syria, which on Wednesday announced it was forming a united front with Iran to confront possible threats.

French President Jacques Chirac, in Beirut to pay his condolences on Wednesday, demanded that "light be shed" on the killing of his close friend Hariri.

"There needs to be an international investigation," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a Senate hearing after Washington recalled its ambassador to Syria over the killing.

Lebanon's opposition has openly charged that the Beirut authorities and Damascus were involved in the killing and the local press said yesterday that the massive turnout at the funeral was a clear vote of no-confidence in the pro-Syrian regime.

Hariri's funeral represented "the largest referendum for unity and sovereignty" in Lebanon, the top-selling An-Nahar newspaper said.

"The reality they [the government] should ponder is that Hariri's funeral turnout was a massive, popular vote of no-confidence in the government.

Damascus should also take the heed of what is a poignant message," the English-language Daily Star said.

"What is happening in Beirut has a very recent precedent -- of sorts of Kiev, after a popular protests late last year forced a re-running of flawed elections in the Ukraine," it said.

"The funeral ... could very well be the catalyst for a similar process in Lebanon," it said.

Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh has rejected calls for an international inquiry but not ruled out a role for foreign expertise from "neutral countries."

On Wednesday the government said it would seek the help of Swiss experts specialized in explosives and DNA to probe Hariri's killing.

A hitherto unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was to avenge Hariri's close ties with the Saudi regime but without providing any proof.

UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen had warned Hariri to be on his guard four days before his assassination, the Lebanese press reported yesterday.

Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, a close Hariri ally, also said both he and Hariri had received advice from Roed-Larsen and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to be on their guard.

"Rafiq Hariri told me two weeks ago: `They might derail everything [by] either getting you or getting me.' Well, they started with him," he told French radio on Tuesday.

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