BEIRUT: Rival Lebanese parties postponed on Tuesday ministerial deliberations over the controversial issue of false witnesses to Wednesday 20 as both the parliamentary majority opposition forces held on to their positions.
Ministers at the Cabinet session held at the Baabda Presidential Palace discuseed Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar’s report on witnesses who allegedly misled the UN probe into the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Discussions focused on the legal framework governing the issue as well as the political background behind it.
While ministers loyal to the parliamentary opposition insist that the Justice Council has jurisdiction to investigate false witnesses, ministers of the majority say that the issue falls outside the prerogatives of the council as confirmed by the Justice Ministry’s report.
Najjar’s report said the Lebanese judiciary can rule on the issue of false witnesses and decide whether they should be put on trial prior to or following the release of a UN-backed tribunal’s upcoming indictment, but added that the issue falls outside the Justice Council’s jurisdiction.
“The discussions did not end because several ministers asked to comment on the issue and thus the session was postponed by the president since tomorrow is a busy day,” Information Minister Tarek Mitri told reporters, referring to the expected visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Addressing Cabinet members, President Michel Sleiman voiced hope that the Iranian head of state’s official visit to Beirut on Wednesday would lead to the promotion of Lebanese-Iranian ties and cooperation between both countries.
For his part, Prime Minister Saad Hariri informed the Cabinet of the outcome of his visit to Egypt on Monday during which he discussed with Egyptian President Housni Mubarak concerns of tensions in Lebanon.
“The premier stressed the need to maintain political calm as well as preserve stability in Lebanon,” Mitri said.
While both camps continue to maintain soft discourse ahead of Ahmadinejad’s visit, well-informed sources told The Daily Star that ministers loyal to the opposition camp were considering boycotting Cabinet sessions following the Iranian president’s departure if the issue of false witnesses is not referred to the Justice Council.
But the Future Movement said in a statement issued following a meeting of its lawmakers on Wednesday that “what is being called false witnesses” is
an issue that could not be clarified or tackled prior to the release of the STL’s indictment to guarantee the secrecy of investigations carried by the court.
The statement also warned against attempts to divert attention away from the core issue which remains the uncovering of the truth behind former Hariri’s murder.
It also criticized attempts to “derail the course of the STL and cast doubt on its credibility.”
Last week, Speaker Nabih Berri threatened to suspend the participation of ministers loyal to his parliamentary bloc in Cabinet sessions if the issue of false witnesses was not tackled and resolved.
Prior to the Cabinet meeting, Najjar reiterated his commitment to the legal report particularly with regard to the article stipulating that the Justice Council has no jurisdiction to investigate false witnesses.
“Speaker Nabih Berri has the same legal opinion but believes in the need to transfer the case to the Justice Council based on a political background given what is happening in the country,” Najjar said.
The speaker has argued that the issue of false witnesses was raising divisions and tensions among the Lebanese, meaning that it falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Council as the latter is entitled to investigate issues that threaten national security and civil peace.
But Najjar said that if consensus is reached among Cabinet members to refer the case to the Justice Council, then he would be compelled to cooperate.
“However, the Council still possesses the authority to assess whether the issue of false witnesses falls into its jurisdiction since the executive authority has no authority to compel the judicial authority to look into any issue,” Najjar said.
On another note, the Cabinet refrained from discussing the procedure to allow non-resident Lebanese to vote after Foreign Minister Ali Shami withdrew the topic from the government’s agenda for further examination.