Beirut tense after draft indictment in Hariri case

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BEIRUT/THE HAGUE - Tension was mounting in Beirut Tuesday, with several streets and schools shut and military checkpoints set up following the issuing of a confidential draft indictment for the Rafik Hariri assassination.

Supporters of the Shiite movement Hezbollah milled about the streets of the Lebanese capital, where the former prime minister was killed in a car bomb blast in February 2005.

A security source told the German Press Agency that dozens of Hezbollah “militia” were gathered near schools, prompting concern among parents.

“This was an attempt to cause panic among the Lebanese and close schools,” the source said.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that violent protests could erupt. But Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Khreiss, speaking on Voice of Lebanon radio, said “no decision to take street action” had been taken.

Speculation that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) would target members of Hezbollah in the indictment prompted its members and their allies to withdraw from the cabinet last week, leading to the collapse of the country’s national unity government.

On Monday, STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submitted the long-awaited indictment to the pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen, who must now confirm the charges before any arrest warrant or summons can be issued.

In a statement issued by the court in The Hague Tuesday, Bellemare said the indictment was “only a first step in our collective quest to end impunity in Lebanon.”

He said court rules prevented him from revealing “either the charges or the name of the person or persons referred to in the indictment” and stressed that its target should be “presumed innocent” until the trial court ruled that they are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“Any accused has the right to defend himself vigorously against the allegations contained in an indictment. The Office of the Defence has been created to assist the accused and their counsel in ensuring that the best possible defence is offered,” Bellemare said.

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