Lebanese Prime Minister tells U.N. chief the government wants an extension of the Hariri probe

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Saturday that his government wanted a six-month extension of the United Nations probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The state-run National News Agency said Saniora telephoned Annan to ask for the continuation past the Dec. 15, when the investigation mandate expires. Hariri was killed in a truck bombing in Beirut on Feb. 14, which also killed 20 others.

The U.N. commission has implicated Lebanese and Syrian officials in the killing, and chief investigator Detlev Mehlis has accused Syria of obstructing his work. Syria controlled Lebanon at the time of Hariri's assassination, but denies it was involved.

It is not clear how the U.N. Security Council would respond to the request, but Ibrahim Gambiri, the U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, has said the probe needs to continue because some witnesses have not been interviewed, there are new people to question and some physical evidence hasn't been analyzed.

U.N. investigators are scheduled to question Syrian officials implicated in the Hariri killing in Vienna next week.

Saniora also briefed Annan on a meeting he held with Mehlis in Beirut on Thursday, during which Mehlis said he wished to step down from the commission after submitting his report to the U.N. mid-December. He wanted to return to his work as prosecutor in Berlin, Saniora said.

Annan reportedly told Saniora that he would try to persuade Mehlis to stay on as head of the commission, according to the NNA. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that Annan and Mehlis were discussing his tenure, reported AP. P.T.

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