Lebanon still haunted by spectre of Hariri murder

AFP , Thursday 30 Jun 2011

Anticipation rises that the UN accused members from Hezbollah, as the UN hands Lebanon the indictment by the Special Tribunal

Lebanese police officers guard the judicial ministry where a delegation from the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri handed indictments to the country's prosecutor general, Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, (AP).

The 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri on Thursday was again thrust into the limelight as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) served an indictment -- and four arrest warrants -- in the case.
The UN-backed tribunal has been at the centre of a long-running crisis in Lebanon, leading to the January 12 collapse of the pro-Western government which had been headed by Hariri's son and political heir Saad Hariri.
Many now fear the country could be sliding towards violence as the Lebanese brace for the announcement of the indictments in the case, which is likely to name members of the powerful and well-armed Shiite movement Hezbollah.

On February 14, 2005, Hariri was killed with 22 others when a massive blast struck his motorcade on Beirut's seafront, sending tremors through a country still haunted by memories of its 1975-1990 civil war.
Six years later, the STL handed its sealed indictments to Lebanon's prosecutor general Said Mirza, as the new Hezbollah-dominated government rushed to finalise its programme, expected to clarify its stance against the court.
Hariri, who was 60 at the time of his murder, headed five Lebanese governments between the years 1992 to 1998 and 2000 to 2004, when he stepped down from premiership as his differences with Lebanon's powerful neighbour Syria began to surface.

The assassination came at a time when the billionaire had begun to oppose openly the sway wielded by neighbouring Syria -- Lebanon's powerbroker for nearly three decades -- over his tiny Mediterranean nation.
His resignation came in protest against Damascus's decision to extend the term of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud, then Lebanon's president, although the Saudi-backed Hariri had voted in favour of the move.

Born on November 1, 1944 to a poor farm worker from the southern city of Sidon, the slain premier's tale is one of rags-to-riches as he rose to power, merging politics and his own business interests which ranged from banking to real estate and the media.
Calm, collected and softly spoken, Hariri moved to Saudi Arabia at the age of 18, where he rose as a leading entrepreneur and was awarded the rare privilege of Saudi citizenship before breaking into the Lebanese political scene.
His admirers hailed him as the saviour of the war-ravaged economy and a philanthropist who used his wealth to help those less fortunate, opening a foundation that provides scholarships and loans to thousands of students.

But detractors criticised him for dragging an already feeble economy deeper into debt and using sky-high interest rates to stabilise the Lebanese pound while benefiting his own construction company, Solidere.
His death in 2005 changed the face of Lebanese politics, sparking the so-called Cedar Revolution, a wave of mass protests that along with international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year deployment.

Following his father's assassination, Saad Hariri took over Lebanon's Sunni Muslim Future Movement, leading a Western-backed alliance to victory over the rival camp in two parliamentary elections.
Saad Hariri, who accused Syria of the murder initially before dropping the allegation, was appointed prime minister in 2009.
But his government proved short-lived: on January 12, 2011, Hezbollah and its allies pulled their ministers from the cabinet in a feud over the STL, after Hariri refused to give in to their demand that Lebanon cut all ties with the tribunal.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah, has warned that his militant group would defend itself against any accusations in the Hariri murder and has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy.
Najib Mikati was appointed prime minister on January 25 with the blessing of Hezbollah, replacing Hariri, who now heads the country's opposition.
Hezbollah and its allies control the majority of seats in Lebanon's new government, including the key justice and telecommunications ministries.

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