The U.N. Security Council has condemned the assassination of Lebanese Christian leader Pierre Gemayel. The Council also approved plans for an international court to try suspects in another political killing in Lebanon.
The Security Council issued a statement condemning Gemayel's assassination within hours after news of his death reached New York. The French U.N. Ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the Council wanted to express firm support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government in the face of a clear attempt to weaken it.
"The Security Council has condemned all attempts to destabilize Lebanon," said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. "This assassination is an attempt to destabilize Lebanon."
The brief statement describes Gemayel a "symbol of freedom and of the political independence of Lebanon".
Also Tuesday, the Council endorsed a plan to create an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The plan will next be submitted to Lebanon's government for its approval.
But Security Council diplomats admitted that the death of a key government minister could undermine efforts to establish the court.
Gemayel, a vocal critic of Syria, voted last week to tentatively approve the tribunal plan. That vote followed the resignation of six opposition cabinet ministers, prompting Lebanon's pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud to declare the vote illegitimate.
Diplomats say if two more ministers were to resign or die, the government would collapse, further complicating efforts to prosecute suspects in the Hariri assassination.
Many Lebanese blame Syria for a long list of political killings in Lebanon. A U.N. investigation has turned up evidence suggesting high-level Syrian involvement in the Hariri murder. The results of that inquiry are nearly ready for presentation to a court.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton Tuesday said the deaths of so many anti-Syrian political figures clearly suggests a pattern.
"I think the facts need to be developed, but if you look at the evidence that links the Hariri assassination to the other political assassinations, I think people can draw their own conclusions," said John Bolton.
Earlier, Bolton bristled when a reporter noted that some Council members had raised the possibility that creating international tribunal in the Hariri case might fuel instability in Lebanon.
"How incredibly wrong that would be," he said. "How incredibly wrong that would be. Instability. They're killing people in Lebanon. They're assassinating political leaders. Not the time to seek justice? There may be those on the Security Council who say it. Let them step forward and say it."
Syria has staunchly denied involvement in all of the assassinations. Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari Tuesday noted that his government immediately issued a statement condemning Gemayel's killing.
"Syria had nothing to do [with] this," said Bashar al-Jaafari. "Syria is affected directly or indirectly by such horrible crimes committed and perpetrated on the Lebanese scene."
The Security Council authorized Lebanon to create the Hariri tribunal last December. In a report to the Council last week, Secretary General Kofi Annan called for agreement on the plan to establish the court outside Lebanon.
The tribunal would have more international than Lebanese judges and an international prosecutor. The secretary-general said having a non-Lebanese majority on the tribunal would help to ensure its independence.