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Many Lebanese angered by U.N. report on Hariri assassination

BEIRUT, Lebanon—The slogan of the nationwide uprising that began after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated last month is just two words in Arabic or in English: "The truth."

Billboards, posters and buttons demand to know who murdered the Sunni Muslim architect of this sectarian society's economic renaissance. The Feb. 14 car bombing triggered not only the uprising against the leading suspect, neighboring Syria, and its Lebanese allies, but also new fears about whether the killing might revive the sectarian strife that tore Lebanon apart from 1975 until 1990.

Many Lebanese suspect that their Syrian-backed leaders had a hand in Hariri's death and think that only an international inquiry can uncover the truth.

The United Nations report unveiled late Thursday, however, failed to provide the answer they're seeking, although U.N. team leader and deputy Irish Police Commissioner Peter FitzGerald concluded that Syrian and Lebanese officials fostered a lawless political atmosphere that contributed to Hariri's murder.

FitzGerald also echoed Lebanese opposition leaders' demands that the pro-Syrian heads of Lebanon's security apparatus be removed so Hariri's killers can be brought to justice.

The report "is not going to make anybody happy," said Timur Goksel, a longtime spokesman for the U.N. force in southern Lebanon who now teaches at the American University of Beirut. "There were too many expectations."

Indeed, many Lebanese who woke up on Good Friday to news of the scathing 19-page report expressed disappointment and sometimes anger, and many are signing a petition demanding a new international investigation.

On the last day of the Muslim grieving period for Hariri, mourners who trickled past his makeshift shrine in front of Beirut's largest mosque said it was taking too long to bring his killers to justice.

One of the mourners, Kazem al Ghour, 52, said he'd sign the petition "in blood" if need be.

"He's underground while those who killed him are still walking around," said al Ghour, a factory worker from Iklim el Kharoub, a village about 20 miles south of Beirut.

"It's necessary for the United Nations to make it clear who did this because here it'll be covered up," seamstress Nadia Dagher, 50, of Beirut, said as she dabbed her tears with a crumpled tissue.

Lebanon's opposition leaders, who've nurtured the largely peaceful revolution that's forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian Cabinet and led to a pullback of Syrian military and security forces to Lebanon's eastern edge, argued Friday that the U.N. report lends international legitimacy to the protesters' demands.

FitzGerald's report calls for an independent, international commission to investigate Hariri's death, a request that will be forwarded to the U.N. Security Council, said Ghattas Khoury, a Maronite Christian member of Parliament.

"We won't find the killer in one day, or one month or probably a year," Khoury said in a telephone interview. "But in the end, we will succeed."

Lebanese government ministers took turns Friday defending their government. FitzGerald's report levies accusations that aren't backed up by facts, they argued at hastily arranged news conferences.

The ministers said no international inquiry would be allowed to proceed without Lebanese government involvement and consent.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud accused the United Nations of "overstepping its boundaries" and "harming the role of the Lebanese state."

Justice Minister Adnan Addoum was the harshest, charging that the United Nations had acted unprofessionally by pre-empting the Lebanese government's investigation and releasing evidence that his investigators still were evaluating, including the size and makeup of the 1-ton TNT bomb that killed Hariri.

"Are we supposed to release things so that the public can feel better or are we supposed to wait until we are finished and have reached a conclusion?" Addoum demanded.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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