Lebanon News

Sleiman: STL can regain credibility by distancing itself from politics

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Sleiman kicked off an official visit to Mexico where he held talks Monday with his counterpart Felipe Calderon and is expected to connect with delegations of Lebanese expatriates and Mexicans of Lebanese origins.

Sleiman said on Sunday evening that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) should regain its credibility among the Lebanese public by distancing itself from politicization.

In a televised interview Sunday evening, Sleiman said the STL’s indictment would lead to war among the Lebanese only if the Lebanese wanted strife to take place.

“War breaks out if we want it, but we do not; so it will not take place,” Sleiman said in response to concerns of civil strife if the impending indictment accuses Hizbullah of involvement in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder.

Hizbullah, which has condemned the STL as an Israeli project, has made it clear it would not stand neutral against a fabricated indictment accusing Hizbullah members of involvement in the assassination as part of a plot aimed against the resistance in Lebanon.

But Premier Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement along with March 14 parties insist that they would not relinquish support for the STL, which has been officially endorsed by the Cabinet policy statement.

“What is important is how to deal with the issue calmly,” said Sleiman, adding that “the case cannot bear suspicion and there should be more examination.”

Commenting on fears of a deadlock at the government, Sleiman denied any knowledge of Hariri’s intentions to step down from his post and dismissed the possibility of a change in government since “the balance of power between [internal] forces remains unchanged.”

Asked whether Hizbullah’s escort of former Major General Jamil al-Sayyed’s at Rafik Hariri  International Airport constituted a coup attempt against the state, Sleiman described the incident as “a reaction to protest against an issue,” in reference to summons against Sayyed.

“We need to revert to laws,” Sleiman added.

Following a summons issued by State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza to question Sayyed for threats against Hariri and the state, members of Hizbullah escorted Sayyed from his plane to the airport VIP lounge upon his return to Beirut.

At the VIP lounge, Sayyed held a news conference during which he reiterated criticism of Hariri and a number of judicial and security officials for allegedly fabricating false witnesses and the STL probe.

Hizbullah said members who escorted Sayyed were bodyguards of party MPs and ministers and thus were authorized to be armed, while March 14 officials claimed “militia members invaded the airport.” Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud said the armed men were bodyguards of officials.

Commenting on the status of the Information Branch which Sayyed along with opposition officials slammed as an illegal apparatus, Sleiman said the increase in crimes has called for the development of security forces which required a change in the number of the Information Branch’s members.

“But what is important is for the members to be disciplined and that the branch’s missions not conflict with other apparatuses,” Sleiman added.

Opposition officials have questioned the large number of members of the Information Branch as well as the ambiguity surrounding its mission.

On another note, Sleiman slammed Israel’s continued violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and stressed the need to equip the Lebanese Army, saying “it is the Lebanese state’s responsibility to seek all appropriate means to secure a funding budget.”





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