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French Version

Douste-Blazy vows French support for Lebanon

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy led the contingent of foreign dignitaries at Thursday's funeral for slain Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel at Beirut's St. Georges Cathedral. Hundreds of thousands paid their respects, some by castigating Syria - blamed by many for the murder of Gemayel, the sixth Damascus critic to be killed in the past two years.

Douste-Blazy - whose country has been a strong opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon - also made little secret of his own suspicions of Syrian involvement, even if he held back from apportioning blame.

"Obviously I will avoid designating the guilty party at this stage, even if after this new murder, following so many others, each of us has an opinion," he told France Info radio.

Syria has denied any role in the assassination.

Following a meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail, Douste-Blazy reiterated his country's support for Siniora's Cabinet.

"President Jacques Chirac is the best defender on earth of Lebanon's sovereignty ... France is determined to support Lebanon and to stand by Siniora's government to help it now more than ever defend Lebanon's sovereignty and independence," Douste-Blazy said.

He added that there will be "no peace in Lebanon unless international justice is estab-

lished," in reference to the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

On Tuesday, hours after Gemayel was killed, the United Nations Security Council approved a draft law outlining the framework of the court.

The draft gives the tribunal jurisdiction to cover other assassinations and attempts that the investigation has linked to Hariri's murder. It must now be formally approved by the Lebanese government and President Emile Lahoud before being forwarded to Parliament for approval.

Douste-Blazy said Lahoud's refusal to sign it would not affect the Security Council's decision, but "it is now time for Parliament to show its determination and desire to establish justice."

The French minister later met with Speaker Nabih Berri, who is expected to convene Parliament to discuss and pass the tribunal law in the coming days.

Douste-Blazy said after his talks with Berri that he is urging Lebanese leaders to resume dialogue to find solutions that honor democratic norms. He also met with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir and handed him a letter from Chirac.

Moussa also met with Lebanese officials, including , Siniora, Berri and Lahoud.

"Lebanon is passing through a very critical phase," the Arab League chief told reporters after meeting Siniora. "It is very important that national unity be protected because it is the foundation upon which everything is based, the government, common decisions and the protection of the country."

Beirut 24-11-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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