Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Siniora officially asks UN to form Hariri tribunal

Siniora officially asks UN to form Hariri tribunal
Opposition slams 'stubbornness' of premier

By Rym Ghazal and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: In an official letter to the United Nations on Monday, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora requested help with the establishment of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri "as a matter of urgency." "We called on the UN Security Council to establish the court as soon as possible after all possible means to ratify it in Lebanon have failed," Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting late Monday. Siniora sent the letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday morning. The letter, copies of which were released to the media, asked the Security Council to set up the court by whatever means "it deems appropriate." It went on to explain that attempts to ratify the tribunal in Parliament had failed. "We found all the doors closed in Lebanon regarding this issue," said Aridi. Opposition leaders said on Monday that the government had made no real effort to reach a compromise on the tribunal. "We worked hard to turn the court into a point of unity between the Lebanese," Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil told reporters after a meeting with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. "But the stubbornness of the head of this illegitimate government and his followers ruined any chance of that," he said. "I don't believe this move will help any of the current problems."

The government first officially sought the world body's help in establishing the court in a petition submitted on April 10. Since then, government supporters have repeatedly called for the establishment of the court under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would bypass parliamentary approval. The opposition has expressed concern that the court will be used for political ends and other reservations. "There is no basis for all the fears and worry over the establishment of the court under Chapter 7," said Aridi.

A spokesman at UN headquarters in New York told The Daily Star on Monday that the world body had been "expecting" the prime minister letter but that no hearings on the issue were planned. "Currently there is nothing scheduled this month with the UN Security Council on the court issue," he said. Ban has urged Lebanese officials to work on reaching a compromise on the court.

Local daily Al-Mustaqbal quoted Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh as saying that the world body would take measures to ratify the tribunal starting in the middle of next week. The Security Council was expected to meet on Tuesday and "unanimously" vote to approve the tribunal, the sources said. Khalil, the Amal MP, said the court was not a panacea for the country's ills. "Will [the court] help solve problems with the government?" he said. "And will it help us head to the presidential elections united?"

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