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Lebanon Under Pressure as UN Set to Debate Probe for Hariri Killing


The United Nations is expected to hold discussions this week over a possible international inquiry into last month's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Mr. Hariri was killed in a massive bomb explosion in Beirut and his death sparked a political crisis in Lebanon and has put the government on the defensive.

The news has not been good for Lebanon's government. A U.N. report on Mr. Hariri's death accused it of negligence and of bungling and possibly even manipulating the subsequent investigation. The release of a videotape did not help. It was reportedly taken at the time of the explosion and shows a white van driving slowly by the site just before Mr. Hariri's convoy was blown up. Lebanese authorities apparently never followed up on that information.

Lebanon has not had a real working government since massive street protest, sparked by the Hariri killing, forced the fall of Prime Minister Omar Karame's cabinet. And, he has not formed a new one since then.

Then, there were three bombings within a week in predominantly Christian neighborhoods of Beirut. Opposition politicians and many Lebanese say they are devised to inflame sectarian tensions.

Senior U.S. envoy to Lebanon, David Satterfield has expressed American condemnation of the bombings and says the aim of the attacks is clear. "They are aimed directly at the people of Lebanon and I think the people of Lebanon are confident in their ability to proceed in a manner that tells those responsible they will not be frightened," he said.

The bombings have put Beirut residents on edge and many Lebanese blame Syria and pro-Syrian Lebanese authorities.

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud has called for an end to violence and for unity. He has also agreed to an international investigation into Mr. Hariri's killing - a main opposition demand.

But with growing opposition and international pressure, Mr. Lahoud is likely to lose what many see as his main backers and protectors - Syria. Syrian troops are slowly withdrawing from Lebanon, but many Lebanese fear Syrian intelligence agents and their supporters inside Lebanon could continue to try to foment violence.

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