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UN Sets Hariri Tribunal Vote

The U.N. Security Council is to vote Wednesday to create an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. VOA's Peter Heinlein at U.N. headquarters reports.

The Security Council president for May, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, emerged from closed-door consultations Tuesday to announce that a landmark vote on the Hariri tribunal is set.

"It was a good discussion," he said. "The sponsors decided to go for a vote tomorrow [Wednesday]. I believe enough work has been done through the discussions that have taken place among the members, so the decision has been made to move forward."

Khalilzad acknowledged there are still some differences of views among members. But he expressed confidence that the legally-binding resolution establishing the tribunal has enough support for adoption.

It is backed by co-sponsors France, Britain and the United States, along with the other three European Council members Slovakia, Italy and Belgium.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Siniora asked for the unprecedented Security Council action after efforts to establish the court internally reached a stalemate.

The measure contains a so-called "sunrise clause" that delays creation of the court until June 10 to allow rival Lebanese factions time to break the stalemate. But Ambassador Khalilzad ruled out any further postponement, saying it would open up the proceedings to what he called 'mischief'.

"What has been agreed to by the sponsors is to give the Lebanese a final chance to come together, because the Lebanese prime minister has taken a substantial risk to ask for this to happen so if you give a lot of time to it, there is all kinds of opportunity for mischief making and negative effect on the situation in Lebanon, until the 10th of June is quite generous, and we feel that's adequate," he said.

Veto-wielding Russia has expressed concerns about several provisions in the resolution, including the invocation of Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, which carries the force of law. But Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, suggested he would not block passage of the measure.

"We have no problem with the idea that things must move ahead with the tribunal," he said. "And we believe the cause of justice must be served. But we believe and we have shared our views with our colleagues on the Security Council extensively, that there are better legal ways to do it that would avoid some serious legal and possibly political repercussions and consequences."

Security Council diplomats say Russia is expected to abstain from Wednesday's vote, along with Council members China, South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia. That would allow the measure to pass with at least the minimum nine votes and no veto.

Former Prime Minister Hariri was killed in a suicide bomb blast in Beirut in February 2005. An initial U.N. inquiry into the assassination implicated senior Syrian intelligence officials. Syria has denied any involvement in the murder, calling it a heinous crime.