Roundup: Lebanese establishment rejects charges against officials for neglect over Beirut explosions

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BEIRUT, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) -- The charges pressed on Thursday by the Lebanese judge Fadi Sawan against caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers for their neglect over the huge explosions at Port of Beirut have been met with rejection from the government and the establishment.

All the indicted officials, including former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former Transportation and Public Works Ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Fenianos, are expected to be questioned on the case by next week.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Saad Hariri noted on Friday that the charges constitute a clear and flagrant constitutional breach because heads of government only appear before a special court formed by the Parliament.

"Families of the victims have the right to know the truth. It is their right to know who brought this ship to Beirut's port and who covered its presence in the country. But it is not acceptable to violate the constitution," Hariri said after his meeting with Diab.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian and former Prime Minister Tamam Salam echoed Hariri's opinion that this legal attack against the position of Prime Minister is "unacceptable."

The office of caretaker prime minister announced a day earlier that Diab "has a clear conscience and he is confident of his transparent approach in handling the Beirut port's explosion issue."

Holding a press conference on Friday, Zeaiter said he has documents proving that he did not know about the entry of the vessel carrying the ammonium nitrate to Lebanon until he received from the Russian embassy a letter about it.

The former minister added that he transferred the letter to the Land and Maritime Transport Directorate but did not get any feedback.

Meanwhile, Khalil, also a top aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, also said he had no role in the case as the former head of the finance ministry.

Also on Friday, Hezbollah called on Sawan to reconsider his decision that "lacks a legal and constitutional basis."

About 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded on Aug. 4 at Port of Beirut, killing about 190 people, wounding at least 6,000 others and leaving 300,000 homeless.

Legal experts told Xinhua that there is the need for more serious measures to hold involved people accountable for the explosion case, but it is difficult to happen in Lebanon.

"This is a crime against humanity but there is a decision in Lebanon by the Supreme Council for the trial of presidents and ministers not to work effectively ," said Antoine Sfeir, an attorney and a professor in International Law at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

Sfeir explained that the trial of top officials, especially presidents and ministers, before a Supreme Council, can happen only when two thirds of lawmakers vote for the trial of a politician.

"With Lebanon being mainly governed by religions, sects, political parties and interests, how can two thirds of the parliament vote for the trial of any politician?" he noted.

Assaad Bechara, a political advisor to former Lebanese Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, told Xinhua that the indictment will probably lead the truth to be lost in the "jungle of politics."

"We must reveal the people who were behind placing the ammonium nitrate at the port and those who were responsible for not removing this material from Beirut's port, and identify how the nitrate exploded," Bechara said. Enditem

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