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Lebanese Justice Minister Says Special Tribunal Will Help Unify Country


Lebanese Justice Minister Charles Rizk says three years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, his country is divided. Speaking in Washington Thursday at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Rizk said he believes the special tribunal formed by the United Nations to try the assassins will help to unify the country in the long term. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

Lebanese Justice Minister Rizk had a frank assessment of the way things stand in his country.

"When you look at the situation as it is, you feel there are two Lebanons and not only one," said Charles Rizk.

Lebanon has been without a president for three months, with the anti-Syrian majority bloc in parliament and the Hezbollah-led opposition locked in a stalemate over how to share seats in a new cabinet. The governing coalition is backed by the United States and a number of other Western countries, and several Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The opposition is supported by Syria and Iran.

The political crisis has led to the worst street violence since Lebanon's civil war, from 1975 until 1990. Another source of tension between the two factions is the special tribunal investigating the assassination of Mister Hariri and other killings.

Rizk said he believes there must be justice for the perpetrators of the killings before Lebanon can have a new beginning.

"Far from being an element of division, the tribunal more and more should be considered as a factor of unity, of reconciliation," he said. "To free ourselves from and to really wash our consciences and our country from this horrendous crime which has been committed three years and two weeks ago."

Rizk said the tribunal is a mixture of Lebanese and international judges and will be based at the Hague in the Netherlands. He said its financing is secure and its judges have been nominated.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman agreed that the current political stalemate in Lebanon is frustrating, but he said there has also been tremendous progress since the assassination three years ago.

"Let's also think about the accomplishments," said Jeffrey Feltman. "They are truly remarkable. Syria has withdrawn its troops. Syria has closed its overt intelligence offices. Lebanon held parliamentary elections in 2005 that resulted in the first "made-in-Lebanon" cabinet as opposed to the "made in Syria" cabinet in decades."

Lebanon's parliament has set March 11 as the new date for lawmakers to try to choose the nation's new president, after parliament on Tuesday delayed the vote for the 15th time.

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