U.N. Sets Up Tribunal for Hariri Killing

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 30, 2007; 10:21 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The U.N. Security Council voted Wednesday to unilaterally establish an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the killing of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri whose supporters celebrated by dancing in the streets of Beirut.

The vote at U.N. headquarters in New York was 10-0 with five abstentions _ Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar. Nine votes were needed for passage. The five countries that abstained objected to establishing the tribunal without approval of Lebanon's parliament and to a provision which would allow the resolution to be militarily enforced.

Holding back tears, Hariri's son said in Lebanon that the resolution was a turning point that would protect his country from further assassinations. Saad Hariri called it a "victory the world has given to oppressed Lebanon and a victory for an oppressed Lebanon in the world."

"Enough divisions. .. Let's put our energies together for the sake of the nation," he urged.

A massive suicide truck bomb in Beirut killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said the complexity of the assassination suggested Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role. Four Lebanese generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement.

The issue of the tribunal has sharply polarized Lebanon. It is at the core of a deep political crisis between the Western-backed government and the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hezbollah. The tensions have taken on an increasingly sectarian tone and has erupted into street battles in recent months, killing 11 people.

Current Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora asked the Security Council earlier this month to establish the tribunal. He cited the refusal of opposition-aligned Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene a session to ratify statutes to create the tribunal, already approved by his government and the United Nations.

The resolution gives the Lebanese parliament a last chance to establish the tribunal itself.

If it doesn't act by June 10, a tribunal will be created outside Lebanon with a majority of international judges and an international prosecutor.

The U.S., Britain and France, who sponsored the resolution, expressed satisfaction after it passed.

"By adopting this resolution, the council has demonstrated its commitment to the principle that there should be no impunity for political assassination, in Lebanon or elsewhere," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad said.

In Lebanon, joyful Hariri supporters wept and even danced in the streets when they got word of the U.N. approval. About 200 people holding flags erupted in cheers. Some cried near Hariri's downtown Beirut grave. A giant screen broadcast the Security Council vote live from New York. Dozens of people prayed before the vote was taken.

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