01 May 2007

UN Hariri probe quetions Rana Qoleilat in Brazil

AO PAULO, Brazil - A United Nations panel investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Monday questioned a fugitive Lebanese banker arrested in Brazil over a year ago, authorities said.

Rana Qoleilat, who is also under investigation for a multimillion-dollar (euro) fraud at the Lebanese bank where she once worked, was arrested in Sao Paulo on March 12, 2006 for allegedly trying to bribe police officers who located her for Interpol.

She was interrogated for about five hours at the federal police's headquarters in Sao Paulo, but police would not immediately release any information about the interrogation, federal police officer Leopoldo de Alencar said.

The U.N. commission is investigating what Qoleilat knows about Hariri's assassination and whether money that disappeared from the Al-Madina Bank where she worked was used to finance the February 2005 truck bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others.

Qoleilat has said she knows nothing about the missing money or the assassination of Hariri.

Brazil's government has turned down Qoleilat's request for political asylum and is processing Lebanon's extradition request.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern that U.N. efforts have so far failed to get Lebanon to approve an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in Hariri's assassination. He urged the Lebanese parliament to act before its term ends next month.

An initial U.N. investigation into Hariri's assassination implicated the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. Syria denied involvement, but four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals were charged and are in custody. Hariri was seen as an opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon. -(leb.wire)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.