(L-R) Judges Walid Akoum, Janet Nosworthy, David Re, Micheline Braidy and Nicola Lettier preside over the first hearing in the trial of four people accused of murdering former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri in The Hague on January 16, 2014
(L-R) Judges Walid Akoum, Janet Nosworthy, David Re, Micheline Braidy and Nicola Lettier preside over the first hearing in the trial of four people accused of murdering former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri during in The Hague, on January 16, 2014 © Toussaint Kluiters - Pool/AFP
(L-R) Judges Walid Akoum, Janet Nosworthy, David Re, Micheline Braidy and Nicola Lettier preside over the first hearing in the trial of four people accused of murdering former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri in The Hague on January 16, 2014
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AFP
Last updated: January 20, 2014

Hariri trial tool to pressure Hezbollah, says Syria's Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in an exclusive interview with AFP, has accused the court trying four suspects in the assassination of Lebanon's former premier of being "politicised" and aimed at pressuring his ally Hezbollah.

"Nine years have passed since the beginning of this trial. Has justice been served? Every accusation was made for political reasons," he said on Sunday, days after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon began hearing evidence in the 2005 killing of Rafiq Hariri.

"We have not seen any tangible proof put forward against the parties involved in the case," added Assad, whose regime came under suspicion in the killing, along with Lebanon's powerful Shiite group.

"The real question should be: why the timing? Why now? This court was set up nine years ago," he added.

"I believe that the whole thing is politicised and is intended to put pressure on Hezbollah in Lebanon in the same way that it aimed at putting pressure on Syria in the beginning, immediately after al-Hariri's assassination," he said.

Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in Beirut in February 2005.

His supporters accused both Syria and Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, which also killed 21 others.

Four members of the group are on trial in absentia for the killing before the special UN-backed court in The Hague, which has taken years to gather evidence and begin hearing the case.

Anger over Syria's alleged involvement in Hariri's death erupted into popular demonstrations in Lebanon that forced Damascus to withdraw its troops from the country after nearly 30 years.

Hezbollah has dismissed the court as a political tool for the United States and Israel, and refused to turn over its members for trial.

The group is a key ally of the Damascus regime and has dispatched fighters to battle alongside Syrian troops against a rebel uprising.

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