Wed, Jan 19, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Tensions rising in Beirut as first Hariri indictment is filed

Reuters and AP, BEIRUT

Lebanese security forces deployed in central Beirut yesterday and several schools closed in response to tensions surrounding a draft indictment issued over the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Groups of men gathered in the early morning in several places across the capital, alarming Sunni Muslim residents who said they were supporters of Hezbollah or its Shiite ally Amal.

In May 2008, armed supporters of Hezbollah took over parts of Beirut after government steps to shut down its private telecommunications network and curb its control at the airport. Dozens of people were killed in fighting across the country.

Last week Hezbollah ministers and their allies toppled the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain Sunni leader, after he refused to cut Lebanon’s ties with the UN-backed tribunal investigating his father’s killing.

The tribunal prosecutor issued a draft indictment on Monday. Its contents were not revealed and may not become public for weeks while Belgian judge Daniel Fransen decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

However, the indictment is expected to accuse members of Hezbollah, which denies any role in the assassination and had accused the tribunal of being an “Israeli tool.”

Shiite Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri told As-Safir newspaper that the opposition had said that its policy would change once the indictment was issued, and that policy “has entered the stage of implementation as of yesterday afternoon.”

The appearance of dozens of men across the capital raised fears of a repeat of the conflict in 2008.

“I got a call from my mother to come home immediately because the situation is bad, and there are people on the streets,” university student Mira Noureddine said. “We are worried the situation could get worse.”

Lebanonese Education Minister Hassan Mneimneh said schools would remain open. “Despite the gatherings of youths we have seen briefly on the streets this morning, schools are continuing their normal operation,” he said.

However, Heba Nashabe, principal at a school in the Barbir district, said she had only four students out of 1,800 yesterday.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama called the indictment by the UN tribunal an important step toward achieving justice for the people of Lebanon. He urged all Lebanese leaders and factions to preserve calm.

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