Lebanon leader asks UN to help investigate blast

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 (Reuters) Lebanon's prime minister asked the United Nations today to help the government investigate the assassination of an anti-Syrian parliamentarian and others killed in a car bomb attack.

Antoine Ghanem of the Christian Phalange party died in Beirut in an attack his allies blamed on Damascus. Syria condemned the killing.

Ghanem was the seventh anti-Syrian figure to die in Lebanon since the February 14, 2005, assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The United Nations has created a commission to investigate the deaths and both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council condemned the attack.

In a letter to Ban, the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, requested ''technical assistance in the effort to investigate the murder.'' Siniora said that at least six civilians were killed in an eastern suburb of Beirut and more than 50 others were injured.

He noted that ''this horrific assassination is the latest in a series of attacks aiming at Lebanese politicians'' and had occurred only a few days before parliament was due to convene to elect a new president.

Ghanem, 64, was a member of the anti-Syrian governing coalition which has been locked in a power struggle since November with factions backed by Damascus, including Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

His death reduced the coalition to 68 seats in the 128-seat parliament -- only three more than the absolute majority of 65 seats it needs to win votes. The house had been expected to convene on September 25 to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, which it must do by November 23.

Ban, in a statement said he was ''shocked by the brutal assassination'' of Ghanem and condemned ''in the strongest terms this terrorist attack.'' ''Such acts of terrorism aim at undermining Lebanon's stability and are unacceptable,'' his spokeswoman Michele Montas said. ''Lebanon has suffered far too many such attempts.'' And on behalf of the Security Council, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, said the 15 members condemned ''this bombing, along with every attempt to destabilize Lebanon, especially during this crucial period.'' The United Nations and the Lebanese government agreed last year that a special tribunal based outside Lebanon would try those suspected of killing Hariri and others in a spate of political assassinations. The Netherlands has agreed to host the court in The Hague.

In May, the Security Council unilaterally approved setting up the tribunal after anti-government parliamentarians refused to let the Lebanese legislature convene to approve the Beirut government's request.

REUTERS RC BST0355

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