Four Lebanese generals held since 2005 over the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri have been freed.
Their release comes hours after a UN court ruled there was not enough evidence to hold them.
Supporters of the generals, mainly from the pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement, fired guns into the air and set off fireworks to celebrate the ruling.
The UN court was set up to investigate the bomb attack which killed Mr Hariri and 22 others in February 2005.
The decision to free the generals comes less than two months before a finely-balanced legislative election that pits the pro-Syrian bloc against their pro-Western rivals, including Mr Hariri’s own political movement now led by his son.
The four men in custody were pro-Syrian generals who all held senior positions in the country’s security infrastructure.
The four were crucial figures in the pro-Syrian administration
- Former head of General Security Maj Gen Jamil al-Sayyad
- Former chief of police Maj Gen Ali Hajj
- Former military intelligence chief Brig Gen Raymond Azar
- Former Republican Guard commander Mustafa Hamdan
They were suspected of planning the assassination and carrying out terrorist acts.
Belgian pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen ruled that there was not enough evidence to hold them.
“The pre-trial judge orders, unless they are held in another case, the release with immediate effect,” the judge said.
The decision, which was broadcast live on Lebanese television, was greeted with jubilation on the streets of Beirut by supporters of the generals.
Mr Hariri’s death caused mass protests across the country
Naji Bustany, lawyer for Mustafa Hamdan and Raymond Azar, welcomed the decision, but said it should have been taken earlier.
“After 44 months, justice has been done. It should have been 43 months ago,” he told the AFP news agency.
BBC analyst Sebastian Usher says the pro-Syrian opposition led by Hezbollah can use this decision to back up its belief that Syria had nothing to do with Mr Hariri’s killing.
But it will be a blow to the pro-Western coalition that won the last elections and pointed to the generals’ arrest as clear vindication of their accusation that Syria was behind Mr Hariri’s assassination, he adds.
The UN special tribunal, which started its operations only last month, now has no suspects in detention and the chief prosecutor has yet to name any new ones.
But our analyst reports that sources close to the tribunal say it is making substantial progress.
Mr Hariri’s assassination prompted massive demonstrations, which led to an end of decades of Syrian control over Lebanon – although Syria denied involvement in the killing.
Colombo Two top LTTE leaders, who gave themselves up before the Sri Lankan Army, have said the Tamil Tigers used the civilians as “hostages” never allowing them to flee the war zone and resorted to “mass killings” if they failed to heed.
Velayutham Dayanithi alias Daya Master, former media coordinator of LTTE, and George, official interpreter of top leader, also appealed to the remaining Tamil Tigers to renounce violence and join the mainstream.
“The LTTE is still using innocent civilians as hostages. They don’t let them go out of the areas controlled by them. ‘Viduthalai Puligal’ (LTTE cadres) have killed a number of people in Sudanthirapuram area when they tried to flee from them,” Daya Master, who surrendered to the Army last week, told the Sri Lankan state television.
“More than 200 people lost their lives at the hands of LTTE in that one area,” he said.
George said people were scared of LTTE and after the humanitarian operations started “little by little” they used the vantage points to cross over to the Government-controlled areas.
“Many died when LTTE cadres, manning the vantage points, resorted to killing,” George, who was close to slain LTTE leader S P Thamilchelvan, said.
Daya Master said he had been trying to escape LTTE for several years.
“When the LTTE broke away from the peace talks in 2006, I decided to break away since I believed in negotiations,” Daya Master said.
He said after killing innocent civilians who tried to flee, the LTTE put the blame on the Sri Lankan Army of killing them.
Daya Master said the Tamil Tigers, now confined to a 5 sq km coastal land strip in Mullaitivu, were forcibly recruiting children in the age of 14-15 years.
“People who were born after 1994, 95 and even 96 have been forced by the LTTE to fight. They were recruited forcibly… they (LTTE) did not even spare the families which had only one child,” Daya Master, who is now under the custody of the army, said.
“They did not spare even people who were sick and were suffering from heart diseases… they recruited everyone and attacked people who refused to heed,” he said.
Recounting his more than 9-day journey from the LTTE-held areas to the ‘Safe Zone’, George said being old he could not run away from the LTTE.
“I could not run as I am old… I used the opportunity when people broke out in a group to escape from the LTTE. I was among thousands of people… so I was able to escape,” he said.
George asked the remaining LTTE cadres to “renounce violence, throw away their arms, leave the leader and come to the military-controlled areas.”
Egypt’s president warned regional adversaries on Wednesday that he would not tolerate what he called their tampering his country’s security and stability, a reference to Iran and the Hezbollah guerrilla group that it supports.
President Hosni Mubarak’s comments were his strongest words of warning since Egypt accused the powerful Lebanese militant group of plotting attacks in the country, and were also meant to send a strong message to the group’s backers in Iran.
Egypt announced earlier this month that it had uncovered a plot by 49 men with links to Hezbollah to destabilize the country by carrying out attacks on Egyptian institutions and Israeli tourists. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has rejected the accusations, while admitting that a Hezbollah member was in Egypt supervising weapons shipments to the militant Palestinian group Hamas that controls the neighboring Gaza Strip.
Egypt and other Arab nations have watched with concern as Iran has deepened its regional influence through its support for Hezbollah and its development of nuclear technology, though Iran says it is not aiming to produce atomic weapons, as the U.S. and its allies suspect.
“The Arab region is passing through a delicate and hard stage … and facing the threats of known regional powers that embrace terrorism and extremism and clearly brag of animosity to peace,” Mubarak said.
“After these powers and their hirelings have encroached on Egypt’s security and sovereignty, I say clearly that I don’t allow this and will not tolerate those who try to tamper with Egypt’s security and stability,” he said in a speech. He did not mention Iran or Hezbollah by name, but it was clear he was referring to the two.
Egypt’s allegations have raised concern about possible Hezbollah activity beyond Lebanon’s borders at a time when the guerrilla group and political movement, together with its allies, stands a good chance of dominating the country’s June 7 parliamentary elections. The United States and its allies among Arab governments like Egypt’s are also fearful that an electoral win by Hezbollah and its allies would increase the sway of the group’s backers Iran and Syria.
Submitted by Dr. Ron Daniels
I make the latter observation because I believe progressives need something akin to the National Rainbow Coalition as a unifying vehicle to advance the progressive cause. Bill Fletcher and Danny Grover made this point a couple of years ago in an article they circulated on recreating a Rainbow Coalition type formation. Without question, the demobilization of the National Rainbow Coalition by its architect Rev. Jesse L. Jackson was one of the great failures of leadership in the latter half of the 20th century. Borrowing from Mel King’s weekly rainbow dialogues and initiatives in Boston, Rev. Jackson was able to utilize his presidential campaigns to build a formidable, progressive, multi-racial policy, advocacy and electoral coalition that captured the imagination of millions of people across the country. Unlike many movements on the left, African Americans and other people of color, constituencies disproportionately affected by issues of race, class and gender inequality, were prominent in the membership and leadership of the Rainbow Coalition. The opening presented by the election of President Barack Obama cries out for such a formation again.
Moreover, a third force would not depend on electoral politics as the sole means of advancing a progressive agenda; it would employ non-electoral strategies and tactics such as mass protests, supporting strikes and labor actions, mobilizing/organizing around issues at the local, state, national and international level as a means of broadening the base of the progressive movement to effectuate real change. The creative use of the Internet to disseminate information, galvanize action and raise funds must also be part of the strategy if a third force is to be successful. There are several other elements I could propose, but these ideas should suffice to make the case for the concept.