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Lebanese government renews approval of Hariri tribunal over objections

[JURIST] In a controversial meeting late Saturday the Lebanese cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora [BBC profile] renewed its agreement to the terms of a UN-supported international tribunal [JURIST news archive] to try suspects accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. The approval came over the objections of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud [official website], the militant Shiite Hezbollah movement and other pro-Syrian factions, and in the midst of a growing national crisis [JURIST report] that threatens to throw the entire country back into civil war in a week that saw the assassination [BBC report] of anti-Syrian Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. Last-minute efforts at compromise with dissenting groups failed despite offers from Siniora to delay the vote for "a few days" if six pro-Hezbollah ministers would return to the Cabinet and the pro-Syrian bloc would commit to the formation of a tribunal. Siniora denied, however, that the cabinet's decision was meant as a "provocation." In a statement he said it "is in fact based on Lebanese unanimity on the creation of this tribunal and the Lebanese who are yearning to protect Lebanon, bolster its democratic freedoms and national security and bring it out of the cycle of killings and assassinations."

An initial cabinet approval [JURIST report] of the tribunal was rejected [JURIST report] by Lahoud earlier this month as "unconstitutional" because it lacked a quorum of Shiite lawmakers. Lahoud released a statement Saturday calling the latest cabinet action "null and void." The next step in the Lebanese legal endorsement of the tribunal is unclear; the only person who can put it on the agenda for necessary parliamentary action is Nabih Berri [official profile], the Lebanese parliament's speaker and head of the pro-Syrian Amal Party [party website, in Arabic], who has supported the President's stance. AP has more. From Beirut, the Daily Star has a background report.

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