Explosion kills former Lebanon PM
"An enormous car bomb blasted the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Monday, killing him and 11 others in the most serious blow to the stability of Lebanon in more than a decade. Mr. Hariri, 60, a billionaire politician who resigned as prime minister in October to protest Syria's continuing influence here, was pronounced dead on arrival at the American University Hospital in Beirut." (New York Times)
"Lebanese and Syrian politicians have denounced the bomb blast in central Beirut that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. While the government called for three days of mourning and a state funeral, Lebanese anti-Syrian opposition leaders demanded a three-day general strike, the resignation of the government and a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon." (Al Jazeerah)
"Last September, under heavy pressure from Syria, the parliament extended Mr Lahoud's presidential term for a further three years. Without the extension, Syria's main ally in the country would have had to leave office last November. It proved deeply unpopular, and Mr Hariri (having reluctantly voted for the extension) stepped down, to be replaced by the pro-Syrian Omar Karami. Almost simultaneously, the UN security council approved resolution 1559, sponsored by the US and France, which in effect called on Syria to respect Lebanon's sovereignty. American interest in the issue had been stirred up by an alliance of Israel supporters, neo-conservatives and the wilder anti-Syrian Lebanese elements, but the involvement of France (which had earlier clashed with the US over Iraq) was more troubling for Syria. (...) All this points to Syria as the obvious suspect for Mr Hariri's assassination, but it may not be as simple as that. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Asad, no doubt sensing the serious diplomatic implication, was among the first to condemn the attack. "To create instability in Lebanon is certainly not in Syria's interests at this time," Mr Shehadi said. Rime Allaf, a Middle East expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, said: "The Syrians could not possibly have wanted this. "It would be a case of shooting yourself in the foot. It clearly is the pro- and anti-Syrian forces at play, but rationally and logically, whoever did this was trying to get the Syrians into more trouble." (The Guardian)
"The murderers of Rafik Hariri knew their target was among the most significant figures in Lebanon. The self-made billionaire helped reconstruct his country after a destructive civil war, knew all the top people in Washington and was a personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. "You can't go any higher than blowing up Hariri in the middle of Beirut in the middle of the day," said one analyst in Beirut. "It's a very powerful message to all the Lebanese, and to the opposition." (Jerusalem Post)
"A moderate Arab leader with close ties to Jacques Chirac, the French president, Mr Hariri had been seen by the international community as a force for stability in a fragile country under the effective control of Syria. Mr Chirac called for an international investigation into the killing.
Mr Hariri had resigned from his post in October after Damascus insisted he back an extension of the mandate of Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president. His death comes amid growing opposition in Lebanon to the continued presence of Syrian troops in the country. Mr Hariri had been under pressure recently to join forces openly with the opposition, which has become more vocal in demanding an end to Syrian control. Pro-Syrian politicians had accused Mr Hariri of having lobbied for a United Nations resolution, jointly sponsored by the US and France, which demanded the dismantling of the militant wing of Hizbollah, the Shia Islamist group, and the withdrawal of Syrian troops. "They [the Syrians] accuse me of being behind all of it - the reaction of the whole international community. I'm flattered," Mr Hariri said in November.
The UN's 15-member Security Council planned a formal meeting today about the killing as well as its resolution on troop withdrawal. An unknown Islamist group claimed the killing in a video tape aired on the pan-Arab al-Jazeera television network, accusing Mr Hariri of supporting the Saudi Arabian regime." (Financial Times)
More troubles for Lebanon. Devastated by 15 years of civil war (1975-1990), this small country was still recovering from these disastrous years. Its tourism industry experienced a strong growth last year. This crime shatters all hopes for more political stability.
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