The hunt is on for Hariri murder suspects

Lebanon was hunting on Friday for six suspects over the killing of former premier Rafiq Hariri as the Syrian-backed regime faced escalating calls to stand down and Washington issued more stark warnings to Damascus.

Banks and shops reopened for business after a three-day mourning period for Hariri, whose murder in a massive bomb blast in Beirut on Monday sent shockwaves through the country and added to tensions with its political masters in Syria.

Lebanon’s anti-Damascus opposition was to hold a meeting on Friday to try to rally a mass public mobilisation after the killing of the man behind the country’s post-war revival, while Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud was to hold a Cabinet meeting.

“The regime ... should take the political initiative of opening up to the opposition by declaring its readiness to meet its demand in forming a special government to run and supervise the legislative elections [due in May],” said prominent former prime minister Salim Hoss.

United States President George Bush, whose administration recalled its ambassador in Damascus over the killing, heightened warnings to Syria and joined the Hariri family in calling for an international investigation.

Justice Minister Prosecutor Adnan Addum said the authorities are on the trail of six suspects who flew from Beirut to Australia hours after Hariri’s assassination, leaving traces of explosives on aircraft seats.

The Ad Diyar newspaper, among others, called on the government to take steps to the “atmosphere of dangerous divisions” engulfing the country, including the resignation of Lahoud and the government of pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karameh.

“This government cannot go on, Prime Minister Karameh is mistaken if he does not resign ... this is a national duty,” said Ad Diyar.

“As for President Lahoud, who has previously called for a national conference, it is clear that his political role is finished because he is incapable of bringing together the loyalists and the opposition in order to achieve national reconciliation,” it said.

The Ash-Sharq daily said “it is absolutely not shameful for the regime to take the decision to leave power in line with the desires of the citizens”.

“There is no other solution but the departure of the regime so that a new regime capable of dealing with the difficult situation in the country could be elected.”

Leading Druze opposition figure Walid Jumblatt delivered a virulent attack on the regime, pledging that “the day will come when we will sweep away the dirt of this criminal, collaborating regime, a regime of terrorism”.

Jumblatt also called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to re-examine Lebanese-Syrian relations “not out of fear, but in the interests of both countries.
We are ready for dialogue, putting behind us our wounds and the blood of Rafiq Hariri.”

The Lebanese opposition widely blame its own government and the regime in Syria for the murder of Hariri, the country’s five-times prime minister who quit in October in a row with Lahoud over the role of Damascus.

Lebanese officials say the attack was probably carried out by a suicide bomber but some have speculated that, given the widespread damage and force of the blast, the explosives could have been planted under the road before Hariri’s convoy passed.

Thousands of protesters took part in a demonstration at the site of the bombing late on Thursday, shouting “Syria out” and circulating a petition demanding for the resignation of the Karameh government.

Fifteen people were killed and about 100 more wounded in the massive bomb blast that ripped through Hariri’s motorcade on Beirut’s seafront on Monday, causing the worst carnage seen in Beirut since the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

Frenzied crowds of mourners had thronged the streets of Beirut for Hariri’s funeral on Wednesday, a somber event that quickly developed into an anti-Syrian rally with the capital resounding with chants of “Syria out”.

Despite the ban on government officials at the funeral, Lahoud paid his condolences to the Hariri family on Friday as thousands of mourners continued to flock to Hariri’s grave and his home for the fifth consecutive day.

Amid fears of uncertainty on the first day of business since the assassination on Friday, the Central Bank of Lebanon vowed to maintain the stability of the Lebanese pound and of discount rates while pledging to ensure liquidity.—Sapa-AFP

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