BEIRUT, Lebanon – Supporters of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri cheered and wept and some danced in the streets to celebrate the U.N. Security Council approval of an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in his killing.
About 200 people holding flags cheered as some cried near Hariri's downtown Beirut grave as a giant screen broadcast the Security Council vote live from New York on Wednesday.
The vote at U.N. headquarters in New York was 10-0 with five abstentions — Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar. Nine votes were needed for passage. The five countries that abstained objected to establishing the tribunal without approval of Lebanon's parliament and to a provision that would allow the resolution to be militarily enforced.
Holding back tears, Hariri's son said in Lebanon that the resolution was a turning point that would protect his country from further assassinations. Saad Hariri called it a "victory the world has given to oppressed Lebanon and a victory for an oppressed Lebanon in the world."
"Enough divisions. ... Let's put our energies together for the sake of the nation," he urged.
A massive suicide truck bomb in Beirut killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said the complexity of the assassination suggested Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role. Four Lebanese generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement.
The issue of the tribunal has sharply polarized Lebanon. It is at the core of a deep political crisis between the Western-backed government and the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hezbollah. The tensions have taken on an increasingly sectarian tone and has erupted into street battles in recent months, killing 11 people.
Current Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora asked the Security Council earlier this month to establish the tribunal. He cited the refusal of opposition-aligned Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene a session to ratify statutes to create the tribunal, already approved by his government and the United Nations.
The resolution gives the Lebanese parliament a last chance to establish the tribunal itself. If it doesn't act by June 10, a tribunal will be created outside Lebanon with a majority of international judges and an international prosecutor.
The U.S., Britain and France, who sponsored the resolution, expressed satisfaction after it passed.
"By adopting this resolution, the council has demonstrated its commitment to the principle that there should be no impunity for political assassination, in Lebanon or elsewhere," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad said.
The tribunal will be established under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with threats to international peace and can be militarily enforced.
The Russians, Chinese, South Africans, Indonesians and Qataris all objected to putting the resolution under Chapter 7, saying it was unnecessary because all Security Council resolutions are legally binding.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution "essentially is an encroachment upon the sovereignty of Lebanon." He said Moscow supports bringing the perpetrators to justice. But "given the deep rift in Lebanese society ... that should not lead to negative consequences."
Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya warned that only a tribunal supported by all Lebanese factions can be effective.
The council's move "will give rise to a series of political and legal problems, likely to add to the uncertainties embedded in the already turbulent political and security and situation in Lebanon," Wang said.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari criticized the resolution.
"Definitely this is something that goes against the interests of the Lebanese people and Lebanon as a whole," he told reporters after the vote.
Hariri's assassination sparked huge demonstrations against Syria. Syria denied involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending its 29-year domination of it smaller neighbor.
Most of Beirut's other neighborhoods were empty after the vote as people stayed indoors fearing trouble. Lebanon was already in a state of heightened tensions because of ongoing fighting between the army and Islamic militants holed up at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Scores have been killed in the violence, among them troops, militants and civilians caught in the crossfire.