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Lebanon in crisis as Hariri murder charges due

Lebanon minister confirms Hariri murder charges to be presented on Monday as Lebanon on Political deadlock

AFP, Saturday 15 Jan 2011
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Murder charges in ex-premier Rafiq Hariri's murder are due Monday, a day after the Hezbollah leader, members of whose group are expected to be named in the charge sheet, is to address Lebanon.

The long-awaited indictment and Hassan Nasrallah's speech come as Lebanon is facing a dire political crisis after the collapse of the government on Wednesday when Hezbollah and its allies resigned over the probe.

Daniel Bellemare, prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) based in The Hague, is due to submit the chargesheet to pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen on Monday, the French newspaper Le Monde reported Saturday.

Lebanese acting Labour Minister Boutros Harb confirmed the report.

"According to my information, the charge sheet will be submitted on Monday," Harb said.

Le Monde said on its Internet site that Bellemare will present his findings to Fransen at a hearing behind closed doors in The Hague, where the court is based for security reasons.

The paper, citing sources close to the STL, said that members of the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah will be targeted in the charge sheet.

According to the tribunal's rules of procedure, Fransen will examine the findings before confirming the indictment. Arrest warrants or summonses would be issued later and the process could take six to 10 weeks.

The STL declined to comment on the report.

"We will say it has been done the day it has been done, we won't announce when this is going to take place," spokesman Crispin Thorold said.

The pending indictment has split Lebanon's unity government; pitting the powerful Shiite party Hezbollah against a Western-backed camp led by Hariri's son and outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri.

Hezbollah has said it would not accept the indictment of its members.

Nasrallah warned in November that the group will "cut off the hand" of anyone who tries to arrest any of its members for the Hariri killing, raising fears of renewed violence in Lebanon.

On Wednesday the government collapsed after Hezbollah and its allies resigned in a dispute over the probe, exacerbating tensions in the country.

Hezbollah's AL-Manar television said that Nasrallah "will make an appearance on Sunday at 8:30 pm (1830 GMT)... to comment on the latest developments."

Meanwhile sources close to the powerful Shiite party, quoted by the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, said it would not accept the return of Saad Hariri to power.

Hezbollah wants a new prime minister who support the "resistance," a code word for the Shiite party.

Meanwhile rival factions begin jockeying to form a new government.

President Michel Sleiman, who asked Hariri to stay on in a caretaker capacity, begins consultations with MPs on appointing a new premier on Monday.

Hariri was in the United States for talks on the political problems at home when Hezbollah and allied ministers quit the government and returned to Lebanon on Friday, after stops in France and Turkey.

Under complicated power-sharing arrangements in multi-confessional Lebanon, the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim.

On Saturday, Al-Akhbar, a newspaper close to Hezbollah, raised the name of Omar Karameh, who was prime minister at the time of Rafiq Hariri's assassination.

For its part, the parliamentary majority headed by Hariri has ruled out any other candidate than him.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, seen as a possible deal-maker, was in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon's former powerbroker, for talks with President Bashar al-Assad.

Jumblatt, whose parliamentary bloc will be the first to meet with Sleiman, controls 11 seats in parliament that could make or break the next government.

The STL was created by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution to find and try the killers of Hariri, assassinated in a massive car bombing on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005 that also killed 22 other people.

A trial could open "four to six months" after the charges are confirmed, tribunal registrar Herman von Hebel told journalists in The Hague in December.

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