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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005, 16:14 GMT
Syrian MPs demand exile's trial
President Assad (left) with Vice-President Khaddam last June
Syria's president (left) stands accused by his former deputy (right)
Syrian MPs have demanded that treason charges be brought against an exiled top politician who implicated President Bashar al-Assad in a political murder.

Former vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam says Mr Assad threatened the then-Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri months before his murder in a bomb attack.

His comments were repeatedly denounced by members of Syria's parliament before they voted for him to be put on trial.

A UN-led inquiry implicated Syria in the murder, but Damascus denies blame.

We call on the justice minister to try Abdul Halim Khaddam for high treason and to take the necessary measures
Mahmoud al-Abrash
Speaker of parliament

Mr Khaddam told al-Arabiya television: "Assad told me he had delivered some very, very harsh words to Hariri... something like 'I will crush anyone who tries to disobey us'."

In the interview, broadcast on Friday, Mr Khaddam also said the Syrian security services could not have taken a unilateral decision to kill Mr Hariri.

But he insisted he did not want to accuse anyone of the murder, preferring to wait for the results of a UN probe into the assassination.

Mr Khaddam's comments drew a furious response from Syrian MPs in a session of parliament on Saturday.

"What has been proved beyond doubt is that he has given victory to the enemies of the nation and cut off allegiance to the homeland, and this is the very definition of the cowardly act of treason," said one, Joseph Suwayyd.

Another MP, Umeima Khudur, told the session: "I demand... that Khaddam is judged because he has attacked the dignity of Syria and humiliated millions of Syrians."

'Syria's Judas'

As the session ended, speaker Mahmoud al-Abrash told parliament: "We call on the justice minister to try Abdul Halim Khaddam for high treason and to take the necessary measures."

Earlier, Syrian newspaper Ad-Diyar denounced Mr Khaddam as "Syria's Judas".

Rafik Hariri seen shortly before the blast
Rafik Hariri and 20 others were killed in a massive explosion

During the UN probe, witnesses told investigators that Mr Hariri was threatened by President Assad at a crunch meeting in August 2004.

Mr Hariri himself, in a taped account cited by the UN report, described the meeting as the "worst day of his life".

"When I finished my meeting with him, I swear to you, my bodyguard looked at me and asked why I was pale-faced," Mr Hariri recounted.

President Assad has previously denied any personal involvement in the murder.

Overall, the UN report concluded that it was highly unlikely that the complex plot to kill Mr Hariri could have been conducted without the knowledge of Syrian security forces.

Top Syrian officials are among the 19 suspects the report says have been identified.

Mr Hariri and 20 other people were murdered in a huge bomb attack in Beirut last February.

The attack sparked such public outrage that Syria was eventually forced to end its military presence in Lebanon.

Watch Abdul Halim Khaddam's comments

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