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Lebanese Leaders Urged to Expedite Ratification of Special Tribunal
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UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicholas Michel on Tuesday called on Lebanese political leaders to strengthen dialogue and break the impasse on the setting up of an international court in the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

The ratification process faces serious obstacles, but it is time for legislation to approve the proposed court, he said after arriving in Beirut Tuesday and meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri.

Last Friday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would dispatch Michel to visit Lebanon with the purpose "of offering his legal assistance to the Lebanese government and political leaders, to help their constitutional procedures."

The UN chief hopes the visit will help the political leaders of Lebanon in their efforts to push forward with constitutional ratification procedures so that the Special Tribunal can be established as soon as possible.

The establishment of the tribunal is a priority for the current Lebanese government, which has accused Damascus of killing Hariri and other figures since his assassination. The cabinet approved UN plans for the court in November.

But the opposition, including Syria's allies in Lebanon, dispute the legitimacy of the cabinet. Berri, a key opposition leader, has refused to call the chamber to vote on the document.

Although agreeing in principle to the idea, the opposition fears that the court will be used as a political weapon against it, and therefore a discussion of the tribunal's mandate is necessary.

Michel, who helped draft the treaty to establish the tribunal, has said that the United Nations would keep out of "the internal controversy" in Lebanon.

He also stressed that his task is to create the necessary atmosphere there for the establishment of the court in a spirit of national dialogue, reconciliation and mutual understanding, adding that the aim of the tribunal will be to help the Lebanese "create conditions for a lasting peace."

The United Nations and the Lebanese government have signed an agreement on the creation of the special tribunal, which still needs approval from the country's parliament.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut in February 2005.

(Xinhua News Agency April 18, 2007)

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