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Lebanon tribunal submits indictment in former PM's assassination

By Ivan Watson and Nada Husseini, CNN
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Lebanese brace for another crisis
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The prosecutor will issue a video-recorded statement Tuesday
  • The indictment's contents have not been released
  • It comes at a time of political instability in Lebanon
  • The leaders of Turkey, Syria and Qatar are to meet to discuss Lebanon
RELATED TOPICS
  • Lebanon
  • Saad Hariri
  • Rafik Hariri
  • Hezbollah

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- Nearly six years after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a prosecutor has submitted the long-awaited results of an international investigation to a judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the tribunal said Monday.

The judge, Daniel Fransen, will review the submissions for a period that is expected to last between six to 10 weeks, the tribunal said in a statement. "The contents of the indictment remain confidential at this stage," the statement said.

A tribunal spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier Monday that the highly contentious indictment was expected to be handed over to the judge at The Hague in the Netherlands by Wednesday.

Fransen will have options including confirming or dismissing the entire document, requesting additional evidence or confirming some counts and dismissing others, according to the tribunal. Both the prosecutor and the head of the defense office can request the indictment remain confidential.

The indictment, submitted by prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, "marks the beginning of the judicial phase of the Tribunal's work," the tribunal's statement said. Bellemare will address the significance of the indictment's filing in a video-recorded statement on Tuesday, it said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for all parties to back the tribunal's work.

"It will be impossible to achieve the peace and stability that the people of Lebanon deserve unless and until the era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon is brought to an end," she said.

Read how the Hariri assassination is at the heart of Lebanon's instability

Also Monday, Lebanon's president postponed consultations with parliament members to appoint a new prime minister, the presidential palace announced.

The decision to delay talks by a week was announced moments before President Michel Suleiman was to begin meeting with lawmakers.

This small country by the sea has been plunged into another period of political uncertainty, since a political bloc led by the Shiite militant movement Hezbollah withdrew its representatives from the Cabinet last week.

The move prompted the collapse of the government of the Western-backed leader Saad Hariri -- Rafik Hariri's son -- who has stayed on as caretaker prime minister.

In a televised address Sunday night, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made it clear he would oppose appointing Hariri for another term as prime minister.

"It's clear to me that the opposition is unanimous in not naming Prime Minister Hariri to form the new government," Nasrallah said.

"It's destabilizing, of course, that the country is approaching this date without a government," warned Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, which describes itself as a public policy think tank and research center. "That makes the risks higher that the indictments, when they come out, might lead to events that are dangerous, destabilizing and unmanageable."

Nasrallah also repeated his objections to the international investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination. Nasrallah had been pressuring the Lebanese government to withdraw its financial and political support from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which he claims is an U.S.-Israeli conspiracy designed to weaken Hezbollah. He also accused the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon of interfering in Lebanese domestic affairs.

Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi said Monday the party would issue a statement on the indictment, but did not say when.

Rafik Hariri died February 14, 2005, along with 22 others, in a massive car bombing in Beirut. The bomb, detonated as Hariri's armored motorcade passed through the city's seaside district, contained hundreds of pounds of explosives and left a 10-foot crater in the street. It triggered widespread protests that led to the ouster of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

An initial United Nations probe in 2006 found Hariri's death may have been linked to high-ranking Syrian officials. Syria has denied any involvement.

Last week's collapse of Lebanon's government has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity throughout the region.

The leaders of Turkey, Syria and Qatar were scheduled to meet in Damascus, Syria, on Monday to discuss the Lebanese crisis.

Before departing for emergency talks in the Syrian capital, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul he had also spoken to the president of Iran about Lebanon in a phone call. Erdogan said Iran's foreign minister would travel to Ankara, Turkey, on Monday to conduct face-to-face talks with his Turkish counterpart. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's most powerful foreign patrons.

Meanwhile, Saad Hariri's "March 14" coalition enjoys support from the United States, France and Saudi Arabia. Many observers see Lebanon's local factions as proxies in a broader Middle Eastern power struggle.

"Lebanon is a frontline state, and it lies on the fault line of several major confrontations," said Salem. "That's why we see Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria meeting sort of frantically to try to find a negotiated way out of this because nobody really wants an outright confrontation."

Along Beirut's famous Corniche seaside promenade over the weekend, many Lebanese said they are exhausted after years of being at the center of domestic and international conflict.

"All we want from our leaders is to have political stability, so that we can grow up economically, and so that we can bring the Lebanese back from foreign countries to work for this country," said Fady Sharara, a dentist who was relaxing in his track suit after a long Sunday stroll.

But some younger Lebanese say it may already be too late.

"I think there's going to be violence here," said Rania Ghazzawi, a 22-year-old student who was stretching after jogging along the seaside. "I'm not going to stay here ... because I don't have faith in this country, although I want it to be good."

CNN's Yesim Comert in Istanbul and David Molko contributed to this report.