Thursday, April 05, 2007

Berri, Hariri agree on need for speedy solution

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denied Wednesday that the submission of a petition to the United Nations by pro-government MPS was "a conspiracy," but Speaker Nabih Berri described the move as a power grab that had nothing to do with its subject – the creation of a court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The country appeared on the verge of further division after the parliamentary majority leader, MP Saad Hariri, handed over a petition signed by 70 MPs that called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "take alternative measures according to the UN Charter to establish the tribunal."

"Sending the petition on the court was not a conspiracy, but the natural course of action after all the constitutional ways have been blocked," Siniora told reporters on Wednesday.

"We need to avoid politicizing the court," said Siniora. "The court and the formation of a national unity government are two separate issues."

The premier added that he would be sending another letter to Ban, similar to the one sent back in January, in which he will highlight the obstacles facing constitutional institutions in establishing the court.

The petition is aimed at bypassing the Parliament because Berri has refused to call it into session to ratify the tribunal. It also could be an attempt by the majority to put pressure on the opposition to change course.

In an interview with NBN on Wednesday, Berri said the move was "not about the court, but about trying to impose their rule on the country."

"They had the petition signed five days before they actually headed to Parliament" on Tuesday to demand that it be convened he said.

Berri said that he is purposely not convening Parliament as he is trying to "protect" what he described as the country’s last constitutional institution.

"I have information that if I call a session at this tense time, 50 MPs will resign," he said.

Berri reiterated that no session will take place with an unconstitutional government and that he doesn’t "understand why they never replaced the five Shiite resigned ministers."

When the interviewer said the government could not overlook Hizbullah and Amal and that President Emile Lahoud would therefore refuse to accept Shiite ministers from other parties, Berri answered: "My problem then will be with the president. We have said many times that we don’t have a problem with the court, but with the government."

Berri said there are no ministers or ambassadors present to do their work and the "country is melting." He also alleged that there is arms smuggling and training in the Lebanon, "by all the Lebanese, not just one side."

Berri also charged that Israel had recently and "repeatedly" asked France and the US to "re-launch an attack" on Lebanon.

A spokesperson for Ban said the UN chief  had received the petition and was studying it as The Daily Star went to press.

The spokesperson said that Ban continues to be concerned by the political impasse in Lebanon and hopes that the relevant Lebanese institutions will take the steps necessary "under their Constitution" to conclude the agreement on the court.

"The secretary general remains convinced that the preferred path toward justice is … the fulfillment of the Lebanese constitutional process," said the spokesperson, "but he notes the difficulties described by the parliamentarians relating to the convening of the Parliament to consider the matter."

Ban is expected to give a briefing to the UN Security Council on his recent trip to Middle East and will hand them his report on UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Lahoud called the pro-government MPs’ petition a "blow" to the ongoing dialogue between Berri and Hariri and to the country’s "unity."

"The petition sent was a violation of the Constitution, and the information in the petition is fabrications," a statement released by Baabda Palace quoted Lahoud as saying.

Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Derrar met with Hariri on Wednesday, after which he said that the atmosphere was "positive"  and that he hoped more talks between the majority leader and the speaker would be able to resolve the impasse.

"We hope dialogue resumes soon and that everyone agrees for the sake of Lebanon," said Derrar, who added that he will be meeting with Berri soon.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea argued that the ruling coalition had had "no other solution but to send the issue to the UN."

"We waited one week, then two weeks, and then three … There was no shift of any kind," Geagea told the National News Agency on Wednesday.

"We found ourselves forced to use this way as all other doors were closed to help move the formation of court forward," he added.

Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh told the Voice of Lebanon radio that the majority’s petition "did not specify Chapter 7" of the UN Charter.

"We left it up to the UN to decide on the best course of action," he said.

Ban said last week that it was premature to talk about setting up the tribunal under Chapter 7 when Lebanese constitutional procedures had yet to be taken toward approving the court.

Chapter 7 makes Security Council resolutions mandatory under international law.

Hizbullah criticized the MPs’ move to leave the court to the UN as one that poses severe threats to Lebanon.

"This is not a game. This is a foreign intervention in internal affairs which threatens the security and stability of Lebanon," Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC).

"The act is like shooting down the dialogue and all the Arab initiatives that have put forth great efforts to help Lebanese resolve their crisis," Hajj Hassan added.

Hajj Hassan’s comments came a day after Hizbullah’s number two, Sheikh Naim Qassem, warned that a tribunal imposed by the United Nations will be "a court against Lebanon and not to try the killers of Premier Hariri."