Saudis balk at French call for Hariri death probe

15th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

RIYADH, Feb 15 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia, with close ties to assassinated former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, took issue Tuesday with French calls for an international probe into his death, saying Beirut's own judiciary is capable of doing the job.

RIYADH, Feb 15 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia, with close ties to assassinated former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, took issue Tuesday with French calls for an international probe into his death, saying Beirut's own judiciary is capable of doing the job.

"The Lebanese people will be the one to protect the integrity of the investigation into this crime," said Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal after a meeting with his visiting French counterpart, Michel Barnier.

Billionaire Hariri made his fortune in the construction business in Saudi Arabia, where he maintained close ties with the royal family, and he held dual Lebanese-Saudi citizenship.

The circumstances of his murder in an apparent suicide car bombing Monday are still unclear, but a shadowy group claimed it had killed Hariri because he was a Saudi "agent."

Referring to that, Prince Saud said: "This is silly, as the operation is a crime against the Lebanese people and against Lebanon before anyone else.

"Hariri's assassination targets Lebanon and the Lebanese people before anything else."

"Lebanon is an independent state with an independent judiciary," he told reporters. "Let us wait for what the Lebanese judiciary has to say over this crime."

French President Jacques Chirac's office has called for an international inquiry into the blast in downtown Beirut that claimed the life of Hariri and14 others.

Barnier echoed that, insisting on "an international inquiry which will ... be based on justice and the means of the Lebanese justice because we want to know the truth.

"Everyone has the right to know the truth on this attempt, firstly the Lebanese people and then the entire international community," said Barnier.

He said "we are expecting this inquiry to be promptly carried out in order to establish the responsibilities," he said.

The "international inquiry ... is the subject of discussions that we are now holding with" UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, he added.

Barnier, who later flew back to Paris, also said France was "actively working ... for the rapid adoption of a UN Security Council presidential declaration recalling the international community's attachment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Lebanon."

In contrast with their differences over the Hariri probe, Barnier and Prince Saud saw eye to eye on Iraq, where Shiites are set to take the reins of power following their victory in recent landmark elections, diplomats said.

The two sides want to "see all Iraqi forces and communities fairly engaged in the political process through the ballot box and the distribution of power," said a French diplomat who attended the talks.

Barnier, adding Paris could work with Riyadh on this, said "the next stage is very important: it is that of the constitution, with a probably federal arrangement in Iraq and a constitution which will guarantee a fair distribution of power."

He also stressed France's quest to boost links with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which he visited ahead of an upcoming tour of other Gulf Arab states.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article