Lebanese Cabinet OKs Hariri tribunal

November 14, 2006|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIRUT, LEBANON -- Pushing ahead despite threats of street violence and unrest, a depleted and defiant Lebanese Cabinet unanimously approved yesterday a U.N. plan for an international court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The vote was another small step toward clearing up a mystery that has shadowed and destabilized this country for more than a year. It was also the latest stroke of political brinksmanship between two bitterly divided political factions in Lebanon.

A standoff between the two groups provoked the members of the powerful Hezbollah movement and its allies to quit the government over the weekend and is widely expected to spill into the streets. The mood in Lebanon yesterday was apprehensive as people braced for street demonstrations and civil unrest.

"Things have gotten out of control, and there's nothing to pull everybody back to the negotiating table," said Kerim Maqdisi, a political scientist at the American University at Beirut. "Both sides are putting on an extreme position, and there's nothing to pull them back to the center."

Anger had flared over the government's determination to proceed with the vote on the international court. President Emile Lahoud protested, and a sixth Cabinet minister quit before the vote. In the end, the 18 ministers who approved the tribunal included no Shiites, who are thought to be the majority in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its Christian allies harshly condemned the vote as an unconstitutional power play. The government does not represent most of the Lebanese people, they said, and any decision made without the participation of the Shiites was invalid.

"The government has lost its legitimacy," said Gen. Michele Aoun, head of a powerful Christian party and a political ally of Hezbollah. "Its decision today on the draft of the international court is meaningless and void."

Saad Hariri, a virulently anti-Syria lawmaker who is head of the Sunni community and political heir to Hariri, has been outspoken about the need for justice in his father's unsolved assassination. He and his allies have been pushing for the international court, which is widely expected to implicate members of the Syrian government in the killing.

Even though the Shiites quit the Cabinet in protest, Hariri and his allies vowed to push forward, saying they wouldn't be cowed by attempts to delay justice.

Megan K. Stack writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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