BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s embattled pro-Syrian government said that it was unlikely to cooperate with a newly appointed UN commission of inquiry into the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri and hit out at France over opposition calls for an “uprising”. The announcement threatened to put Lebanon on a collision course with both the former colonial power and the United States, which is demanding an independent investigation into the bombing, in which 14 other people also died. Asked if his government would work with the UN team to be headed by senior Irish police officer Deputy Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, Defence Minister Abdel Rahim Mrad said: “I do not think so.

“This issue was proposed by the opposition and we did not agree on that,” he told state television, referring to a cabinet meeting the previous day.

Mrad complained that the government had not even been notified by the world body as to the commission’s mission and terms of reference.

He took particular issue with Fitgerald’s appointment, saying that Beirut should have been given a veto over the choice.

“The council of ministers did not agree … on how to deal with this issue in particular,” he said.

“This issue is up to the council of ministers and chiefly the prime minister.”

Meanwhile, Mrad vowed that the security forces would clamp down on any illegal demonstrations following the opposition’s call for a wave of sit-ins against his government.

“We stressed at the council of ministers on Friday the security measures, and we will not allow any security breaches,” the defence minister said.

More than 40 of Lebanon’s 128 MPs called late Friday for an “uprising for independence”, accusing the government and its political masters in Damascus of having a hand in Hariri’s assassination.

Prime Minister Omar Karameh struck back, accusing the opposition of “planning a coup d’etat” but adding that his government remained open to “dialogue”.

Information Minister Elie Firzli accused French President Jacques Chirac of having a direct hand in the opposition’s campaign.

“Chirac made himself a direct party to lead the battle on the Lebanese scene,” Firzli charged.

Mrad echoed his colleagues’s allegations and slammed Chirac’s decision to meet no government officials when he attended Hariri’s funeral Wednesday, even though it was not a state ceremony.

“(Chirac) came to accuse, help the opposition to escalate and encourage the opposition to escalate,” the defence minister said.

He also lashed out at a French government advisory warning nationals against all non-essential travel to Lebanon.


“We regret this extremist position and hope that it will not last long and that France will revoke this wrong decision,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese turned out for Hariri’s funeral and the opposition has mounted daily protests accusing Syria of being behind the killing and demanding that its 14,000 troops go home.

Both France and the United States, which co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution last September demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops, have called for a UN inquiry.

US President George W. Bush (newsweb sites) was due to meet Chirac in Brussels on a fence-mending trip Monday and coordinate their positions on Lebanon.

Lebanese prosecutors said they were targeting six suspects who boarded a Sydney-bound plane shortly after Monday’s bombing, as traces of explosive had been found on some of their seats.

But one of the six and Australia’s top Muslim cleric both said protested the suspects’ innocence and told an Arabic daily that they had allowed Australian police to take hair and skin samples in a bid to prove their case.

Lebanese officials say the attack was probably carried out by a suicide car bomber. However, some have speculated that, given the force of the blast, the explosives might have been planted under the road.