|Lebanese in streets demand resignation of Lahoud, Assad
|Two thousand people returned to Lebanon's Martyrs' Square Friday, in front of the tomb of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, to call for the resignation of the presidents of Syria and Lebanon.
The protests came after the publication of a damning UN report into the murder of Hariri, which pointed to the involvement of Lebanese and Syrian security services.
"Down with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad," and "Resign [Lebanese President Emile] Lahoud," shouted the demonstrators, brandishing Lebanese flags.
The demonstrators had responded to a call from youth movements linked to the anti-Syrian faction of Hariri's son Saad, which is the largest grouping in Lebanon's Parliament.
From New York, Mehlis said that the "editorial process" carried out under his directions may have resulted in two differing versions of his report on the investigation into the assassination of Hariri.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton commented on the matter Friday: "I have seen several versions of the report and at the moment I don't understand why there are several versions of the report."
Mehlis said during a news conference at UN headquarters in New York on Friday that "we produced a number of versions of the report, and I was just informed and made aware that one of several earlier drafts had made its way to the media."
"I think this is distracting from the main point of the report itself," Bolton said regarding the differences in the leaked reports, "the substance of which doesn't change no matter what version you have or how good you are at software."
According to Mehlis, "the official version of the report is the one that was submitted to [UN Secretary General Kofi] Annan and transmitted by him to the Security Council."
He continued: "I want to make it clear that any differences between earlier versions and the final version of the text resulted from the editorial process carried out by my team under my direction and are my responsibility."
The controversy concerned omitted names of top Syrian and Lebanese officials, whom, according to a witness statement included in a version apparently never meant for the public, had "decided to assassinate Hariri."
The names of Maher Assad (brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad), Assef Shawkat (Assad's brother-in-law), Syrian intelligence generals Hassan Khalil and Bahjat Suleyman, and Jamil al-Sayyed (head of the Lebanese Surete Generale), and Mustafa Hamdan (head of Lebanese Presidential Guards) were deleted in a version leaked to the press.
He said the names were left out because of "a presumption of innocence" and so as not to give the impression that the allegations made by a witness were "an established fact."
Mehlis also denied allegations by the press that the changes were made during his meeting with Annan. Yet, the changes appeared to have been made at the time when he met the Annan, according to computer printouts of the unedited report.
"None of these changes were influenced by anyone," Mehlis said.
Mehlis is expected to brief the Security Council on the report Friday.
Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud denied in a statement issued Friday that he received any phone calls on the day Hariri was murdered from Ahmad Abdel-Al, a member of the Sunni fundamentalist group Al-Ahbash.
Lahoud further considered allegations that he was linked to the murder as "groundless and void," and said he had been targeted by a campaign to mar his reputation.
Lahoud added that he "has complete faith in the Lebanese
judiciary," and stressed "the importance of inflicting severe punishment against the perpetrators" of Hariri's killing.
Mehlis' report had stated that Abdel-Al called Lahoud shortly before the assassination, and depicted Abdel-Al as "a key figure in any ongoing investigation."
Abdel-Al is currently under arrest on illegal weapons charges, while Mustafa Hamdan's brother, Majed, remains at large in the same case. Al-Ahbash denied the allegations Friday that one of its officials, Mahmoud Abdel-Al, brother of Ahmad, had any involvement in Hariri's assassination.
The Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) also refuted allegations in the Mehlis report that its leader Ahmad Jibril was connected to the assassination.
"We are ready to present any of our members if he was proven to have a hand in the terrorist crime which we condemn," the faction said in a statement released Friday.
Meanwhile, security sources said that State Security General Faisal al-Rashid and several military officers were detained early Friday morning, shortly after the report was leaked to the press.
Rumors also circulated Friday that former MP Nasser Qandil had been placed under house arrest, but a judicial source said there was "nothing against Qandil, so far."
The Daily Star