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UN Calls for Independent Probe of Hariri's Assassination

The U.N. team investigating the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri is calling for an independent international investigation into the circumstances of his death.

The report says Lebanon's investigation into Mr. Hariri's death was "seriously flawed," and did not reach a credible conclusion. The report also blames the Syrian military and intelligence for lack of security and law and order in Lebanon.

Mr. Hariri was killed along with more than a dozen people when a massive explosion ripped through his convoy. He had opposed Syria's continued military presence in Lebanon. Syrian troops came to Lebanon to quell a civil way in 1976 and Damascus has since dominated Lebanese politics.

The U.N. fact-finding team presented its report to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who endorsed its recommendation for an independent, international investigation. British Ambassador to the United Nations Emyr Jones Parry says he expects the Security Council to support the recommendation.

"There is no question that the content and the recommendations of that report are deeply alarming," he said. "I expect the Council to give it the fullest consideration."

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mehdad, rejects the reports conclusions, saying the U.N. team met only with opposition leaders. He says the Security Council must bear some responsibility for polarizing the Lebanese people by adopting resolution 1559 in September, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon.

"I think what caused the division in Lebanon is the resolution 1559 that was adopted by a small majority," he said. "This shows how the Council should act when it comes to resolutions, not to encourage divsions in countries but to think wisely and to see how better we, the international community, can solve problems."

Irish deputy police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald led the fact finding team, which includes Egyptian and Moroccan nationals. Three Swiss bomb experts joined the team following the discovery that vehicles from Mr. Hariri's convoy were removed from the scene within hours of the explosion before an independent investigation could take place.

Evidence now indicates that Mr. Hariri's convoy was devastated by explosives buried beneath the road and detonated from a nearby building rather than by a car bomb as was originally suspected. A photograph printed in a Lebanese newspaper and now in the hands of U.N. investigators shows a drain cover at the exact spot in the road where the convoy blew up. The photograph was taken less than two days before the explosion.