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Lebanon in crisis ahead of Hariri murder charges


Murder charges for ex-premier Rafiq Hariri's assassination are due on Monday, a day after the head of Hezbollah, members of whose group are expected to be named in the chargesheet, is to address Lebanon.

The long-awaited indictment and Hassan Nasrallah's speech come with Lebanon in deep crisis after the collapse of the government on Wednesday when Hezbollah and its allies resigned over the probe.

Daniel Bellemare, prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) based in The Hague, is due to submit the chargesheet to pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen on Monday, the French newspaper Le Monde reported.

Lebanon's acting Labour Minister Boutros Harb confirmed the report. "According to my information, the chargesheet will be submitted on Monday," he told AFP by telephone.

Le Monde said on its Internet site that Bellemare will present his findings to Fransen at a hearing behind closed doors in The Hague, where the court is based for security reasons.

The paper, citing sources close to the STL, said members of the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah will be targeted in the chargesheet which is to remain under wraps.

According to the tribunal's rules of procedure, Fransen will examine the findings before confirming the indictment. Arrest warrants or summonses would be issued later and the process could take six to 10 weeks.

The STL declined to comment on the report.

"We will say it has been done the day it has been done, we won't announce when this is going to take place," spokesman Crispin Thorold told AFP.

The pending indictment has split Lebanon's unity government, pitting the powerful Shiite party Hezbollah against a Western-backed camp led by Hariri's son and caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Hezbollah has said it will not accept the indictment of its members.

Nasrallah warned in November that the group would "cut off the hand" of anyone who tried to arrest any of its members for the Hariri killing, raising fears of renewed violence in Lebanon.

The Hariri government collapsed after Hezbollah and its allies resigned in a dispute over the probe, exacerbating tensions in the country.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar television said that Nasrallah "will make an appearance on Sunday at 8:30 pm (1830 GMT) ... to comment on the latest developments."

Meanwhile, sources close to the powerful Shiite party, quoted by the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, said it would not accept the return of Saad Hariri to power.

Hezbollah wants a new prime minister who supports the "resistance," a code word for the Shiite party, an arch-foe of Israel.

Rival factions have already begun jockeying to form a new government.

President Michel Sleiman, who asked Hariri to stay on in a caretaker capacity, begins consultations with MPs on appointing a new premier on Monday.

Nasrallah's Christian ally, General Michel Aoun, said on television on Saturday there were many candidates to replace Hariri and that their names would be discussed on Sunday by Hezbollah.

Hariri was in the United States for talks on the political problems at home when Hezbollah and allied ministers quit the government. He returned to Lebanon on Friday, after stops in France and Turkey.

Under complicated power-sharing arrangements in multi-confessional Lebanon, the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim. The parliamentary majority headed by Hariri has ruled out any other candidate for the past than him.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose parliamentary bloc controls 11 seats in parliament and could make or break the next government, held talks on Saturday in Syria with President Bashar al-Assad on the crisis.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also discussed Lebanon by telephone and called for a quick solution to the crisis, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

The STL was created by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution to find and try the killers of Hariri, assassinated in a massive car bombing on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005 that also cost 22 other lives.