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December 12, 2006

Lebanonwire

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Lebanon cabinet sends Hariri tribunal draft to parliament

hariri_rafic.jpg (37399 bytes)BEIRUT, Lebanon - The rump Lebanese cabinet has sent to parliament a controversial text calling for creation of an international tribunal on the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

"The Council of Ministers unanimously decided to send the UN draft on the creation of an international court to try suspects in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri," Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh told AFP after a meeting of the cabinet's remaining ministers.

"This is an important step in the ratification procedure ... and also affirms the presence and continuity of the government," he said.

"This shows (President Emile) Lahoud and his Syrian allies who want to destabilize Lebanon that the government is moving forward on its path."

The 24-member cabinet was deserted by six pro-Syrian ministers last month amid a political crisis that has paralyzed the Western-backed government and sparked mass opposition protests in the capital.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, whose central Beirut offices have been surrounded since December 1 by thousands of opposition protesters loyal to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Christian former general Michel Aoun, has refused to accept their resignations.

The powerful Hezbollah movement, supported by Syria and Iran and flush from its claimed "divine victory" in the summer war with Israel, had two portfolios in the cabinet which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

Two ministers from Shiite ally Amal also resigned, along with two other allies, after failing to reach agreement on giving opposition parties a greater say in the government.

Following their departure, the remaining cabinet members went ahead and approved the final draft of a UN resolution on creating the court, which must get the nod from parliament before being sent to the UN Security Council for adoption.

Lahoud promptly rejected the text, saying it was approved by an illegitimate cabinet that did not represent the Lebanese people.

According to Lebanon's constitution, the legal quorum for a cabinet meeting is a majority of two thirds of its members.

The constitution also says the government can submit a draft text to parliament even if it is not signed by the head of state.

Pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a key opposition partner, has refused to convene parliament until the political crisis is resolved.

An ongoing UN probe into the bomb blast that killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005 has implicated senior officials from Syria, which for decades was the powerbroker in its smaller neighbor, and also Lebanese accomplices.

Damascus has denied any involvent in the killing.

An interim report, turned over to UN chief Kofi Annan on Tuesday, said Syria was continuing to provide satisfactory help to the probe.

The report by the head of the panel, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, is expected to be taken up by the 15-member UN Security Council next Monday.

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