Hizbullah supporters protest in streets of Lebanon

Schools, roads closed down in Beirut as supporters gather against indictments allegedly accusing some of Shi'ite group's members, Khamenei for involvement in Hariri killing; Obama welcomes first indictment.

Hizbullah supporter 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Hizbullah supporter 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
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 named.
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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 other.
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 said.
Hariri was killed along with 22 other people by a huge truck bomb blast on February 14, 2005, on Beirut’s Mediterranean sea front.
On Monday evening, Hizbullah blamed the US 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 formed.