BEIRUT — Hizbullah supporters gathered in the streets of Beirut early Tuesday after a UN tribunal filed indictments in the assassination of a former prime minister, prompting several schools to close as nervous parents pulled their children from class.
Associated Press reporters saw at least four gatherings of up to 30 people each, dressed in black and carrying hand-held radios. One gathering was about 400 meters (1,300 feet) from the Grand Serail, the seat of government in downtown Beirut, and security officials closed the roads leading to the building.
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Lebanese security officials confirmed the gatherings, which dispersed by late morning and appeared to be a show of force in the hours after a long-awaited indictment was released Monday evening in the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Ghaleb Abu Zeinab, a member of Hizbullah's political bureau, said he is not aware of such gatherings.
"I cannot comment," he said. US President Barack Obama has welcomed the first indictment in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
In a statement Monday, Obama called the indictments by the UN tribunal an important step toward ending the era of impunity for murder in the country and achieving justice for its people.
He called on all Lebanese leaders and factions to preserve calm and exercise restraint.
The US president said the Special Tribunal for Lebanon must now be allowed to continue its work without interference and coercion.
"Any attempt to fuel tensions and instability, in Lebanon or in the
region, will only undermine the very freedom and aspirations that the
Lebanese people seek and that so many nations support," Obama stated.
The prosecutor of the tribunal filed the first indictment in
the case on Monday.
Details of suspects named in the indictment and the
charges against them were not released.
Earlier in the day, it was reported
that Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be indicted for giving the
order to kill Hariri in February 2005, and Lebanese news sources reported that
Hizbullah members who planned and carried out the assassination would also be
Israeli officials continue to watch the events in Lebanon unfurl,
but have been careful not to comment on the developments so as not to be seen as
intervening one way or the other.
One source said that a finger pointed
at Khamenei – although it would be a major news story – would be unlikely to
change international attitudes toward Iran significantly, because the country is
already “in the world’s dog house.”
Most of the world already knows what
Iran is capable of doing, the source said, while other countries that support
Iran – like Venezuela – would not be swayed one way or the
Revelations of Iranian involvement would also be unlikely to
change anything inside Lebanon, for the simple reason that everyone there knows
very well the closeness of the Iranian- Hizbullah ties, the sources
Hariri was killed along with 22 other people by a huge truck bomb
blast on February 14, 2005, on Beirut’s Mediterranean sea
On Monday evening, Hizbullah blamed the
for the indictment.
According to the Hizbullah-aligned television
station Al-Manar, “Washington pushed the indictments in order to light the fuse
that will blow up the bridges that were built in order to find a solution” after
the Lebanese government collapsed last week.
Tribunal registrar Herman van Hebel said
in a statement
that prosecutor Daniel Bellemare had sent the indictments to
Judge Daniel Fransen, who must decide whether to confirm or dismiss them or ask
for more evidence.
News of the indictment comes as Lebanon’s
government has been plunged into turmoil by the resignation last week of
Hizbullah and its allies from a broad coalition led by Hariri’s son Saad, who
remains caretaker prime minister until a new government is