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U.N. team seeks to quiz Assad

Panel want to discuss Hariri killing with Syrian president

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Rafik Hariri
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- U.N. investigators looking into the assassination of a former Lebanese leader have asked to interview Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, a spokesperson for the investigators said.

According to the spokesperson Monday, a request has been made for an interview with al-Assad and al-Sharaa, among others.

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government.

The decision to seek interviews with the two men came only days after former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam told the al-Arabiya network that al-Assad had made direct personal threats against Rafik Hariri, months before the former Lebanese prime minister was assassinated in Beirut last February.

Khaddam was a key Syrian policy maker before resigning as Syria's vice president in June.

While the spokesperson said the information presented by Khaddam corroborates information already received by the U.N. commission already, no mention was made of what prompted the request for the interviews.

Khaddam's accusations came as the U.N. inquiry into Hariri's death focuses on senior Syrian figures. He said Hariri had been summoned to Damascus, and Assad had spoken very harshly to him.

In his interview with al-Arabiya, the former vice president said he was not accusing al-Assad of complicity in Hariri's death. But he launched a wide-ranging assault on his style of leadership:

"Well the harshness was something like -- al-Assad told him: 'You want to bring a new president to Lebanon, you want to do so and so. I will not let you. I will smash anyone for even trying to disobey our orders.' I don't recall his exact words but that was the level of harshness. Hariri went out, his blood pressure went up and his nose started bleeding."

Khaddam said that "authority is in the hands of one person -- a one-man rule."

"And authority is extremely centralized. That made institutions, party leadership and popular organizations completely absent -- and their role became to rubber stamp the decisions of the president."

Khaddam also criticized the Syrian government for political missteps in Lebanon and not providing political reform and economic help domestically.

During a parliamentary session Saturday, several lawmakers stood up to denounce Khaddam's comments.

One member of parliament -- Sha'aban Shaheen --said Khaddam's comments "constitute a criminal offense that reaches the level of treason and we demand he be put to trial before the Syrian security high court."

Observers say they could undermine al-Assad's already delicate position as Syria's president.

The U.N. Security Council has already declared Hariri's assassination an act of terrorism, and the U.N. investigation has implicated high Syrian officials.

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