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Tribunal on Hariri slaying opens

March 02, 2009|Associated Press

LEIDSCHENDAM, NETHERLANDS — An international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri opened Sunday with a moment's silence and a pledge to impartially investigate the politically charged case.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said he would continue his investigations without political interference and would call "as soon as possible" for Lebanese authorities to turn over four pro-Syrian generals who are suspects.

Bellemare, a Canadian, said he could issue several indictments as a result of his inquiry into the Feb. 14, 2005, suicide blast that killed Hariri and 22 others on a Beirut street, but he would not say when.

The generals led Lebanon's police, intelligence service and an elite army unit at the time of the killing. They are the only suspects in custody, but have not been charged.

The new court has a wing ready to detain suspects at a Hague jail that already holds former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former Liberian President Charles Taylor, among other international war crimes suspects.

In Lebanon, hundreds of supporters of the anti-Syrian March 14 group gathered near Hariri's tomb in downtown Beirut, where they watched the opening session on two giant screens.

Earlier, dozens of anti-Syrian lawmakers laid wreaths on Hariri's tomb and those of his bodyguards and aides who were killed with him.

As prime minister, Hariri, a billionaire businessman, was credited with rebuilding downtown Beirut after the 1975-90 civil war and with trying to limit Syria's influence.

Syria denies any involvement in the assassination. But mass protests and international pressure forced the government in Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.

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