Hariri - Reuters - Jan. 17, 2010
A banner in Lebanon of Saad Hariri and his father Rafik Hariri. Photo by Reuters
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The prosecutor of the international Lebanon tribunal issued a draft indictment on Monday over the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The contents of the draft indictment, which were sent to pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen, were not revealed and details of the charge sheet may not emerge for another six to ten weeks, when Fransen is expected to decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

"The prosecutor of the tribunal has submitted an indictment and supporting materials to the pre-trial judge," the UN-backed tribunal said in a statement.

The tribunal said the documents were handed to the registry, but added that the contents of the indictment will remain confidential at this stage.

Last week Shi'ite Hezbollah, along with its allies, brought down the government of Saad Hariri, the slain man's son. It said on Sunday it would not back Hariri for another term.

The UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination is expected to accuse members of Hezbollah of involvement.

Hezbollah's al-Manar television said on Monday the United States was behind the release of the draft indictment over the killing of Hariri in order to sabotage efforts to solve Lebanon's crisis.

 

It accused Washington of "pushing the indictment ahead to light the fuse to blow up the bridges for a solution", adding that the "Americans control the indictments in form and content."

The militant group, which denies any role in the bombing, had asked Hariri to renounce the tribunal, withdraw the Lebanese judges and freeze Lebanon's funding of it.

Hariri's rejection of the demands triggered the resignation of 11 ministers from Hezbollah and its allies last week.

Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran while Hariri enjoys Western and Saudi support, meaning that the deep divisions among Lebanese parties are reflected in tensions between their powerful regional backers.

Meanwhile on Monday, Lebanon postponed talks on forming a new government, leaving regional leaders meeting in Syria to tackle the political crisis triggered by imminent indictments over the killing of Sunni leader Rafik Hariri.

A statement from President Michel Suleiman's office said the consultations in Beirut had been put back by a week "after evaluating the different positions of the Lebanese parties".

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, speaking before talks on Monday with leaders of Syria and Qatar in Damascus, said instability in Lebanon was a concern for the whole Middle East.

"Our region could not cope with Lebanon entering a new atmosphere of uncertainty," Erdogan said at Istanbul airport.

Economic impact

The political turmoil has stoked sectarian tensions and ratings agency Moody's said it could jeopardize Lebanon's projected 5 percent economic growth in 2011, hitting profits of the country's banking industry.

A spokesman for the tribunal denied reports in Lebanon that the prosecutor had submitted draft indictments on Monday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he fully supported the tribunal and urged the country to form a new government as soon as possible.

"It is important not to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation, and no one should politicize the work of the tribunal," he told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.

The three leaders meeting in Damascus "affirmed their care to find a solution to this crisis based on the ... Syrian-Saudi efforts to achieve harmony between the Lebanese," an official Syrian statement said after Monday's talks, referring to earlier failed efforts by Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a deal.

Erdogan also said Iran's foreign minister would visit Turkey on Monday after the Turkish prime minister discussed the issue at the weekend with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday his movement would fight efforts to tarnish its image. "We will not allow our reputation and our honor to be touched," he said.

Nasrallah said leaders from several countries had intervened to demand Hariri be picked again to form the next government, but defended the decision to bring down the last one.

"It was a must to topple the incapable government because bringing it down might -- and I say, might -- open the door for Lebanon to form a loyal government that could carry the burden ... and be responsible," he said.

Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami summoned U.S. ambassador Maura Connelly over a meeting she held with a Christian Lebanese parliamentarian, who had been a Hariri supporter but later split with him. Shami said the meeting amounted to "interference in Lebanon's internal affairs".

An embassy spokesman said the United States "does not interfere in Lebanon's internal political matters".