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Syrian president denies that he threatened Hariri

CAIRO -- President Bashar Assad of Syria has denied that he threatened to assassinate Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, and said in an interview published yesterday that he was ''direct and frank" when the two men last met.

Assad also indirectly rejected the latest request from UN investigators to interview him about the Hariri assassination, saying he has ''international immunity."

Syria's former vice president, Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who defected to France, said on Friday that Assad had threatened Hariri during their last meeting.

''I don't know what others meant by threatening," Assad was quoted as saying in the Egyptian opposition weekly al-Osboa. ''This never happened and the aim was to connect the threat with the assassination. The game is clear. Nobody attended the last meeting between me and Hariri, therefore, how can they make these allegations?"

The two leaders met in August 2004 to discuss extending the term of the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, which Hariri opposed. Hariri died in a massive truck bombing in February 2005.

A report by a UN team investigating Hariri's assassination and several anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians have suggested a Syrian role in the killing.

Assad acknowledged that Hariri opposed Lahoud's extension but said he told Hariri he was not pressing him. He asked Hariri to ''go and think it over for one day or more . . . and he agreed to the Syrian demand."

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