News24

Army deployed in tense Beirut

2011-01-18 18:27

Beirut - Soldiers deployed heavily in several Beirut neighbourhoods on Tuesday after dozens of men gathered on the streets in an apparent show of force following indictments in the murder of the country's ex-premier.

"The gatherings may signal preparations to mobilise in relation to the indictments handed down," a security official told AFP.

He was referring to a sealed indictment submitted on Monday by the prosecutor of a UN-backed tribunal in relation to the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

"When questioned as to what they were doing there, the men quipped that they were simply going on a trip," he added, requesting anonymity.

"They began disbanding after about an hour."

A heavy army presence could be seen by midday in the neighbourhoods where the gatherings took place.

"We have taken measures to reassure citizens," an army spokesperson told AFP.

The security official said the gatherings were clearly linked to the political crisis over the UN-backed probe into Hariri's murder.

Hezbollah

The prosecutor for the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has submitted his findings in the case to a pre-trial judge who will now review the charges.

It is widely expected that members of the powerful Shi'ite militant party Hezbollah will be implicated in the murder. That has raised fears of Sunni-Shi'ite violence similar to that which brought the country close to a new civil war in May 2008.

Several schools shut down on Tuesday as news spread quickly about the street gatherings in west Beirut.

Similar gatherings were reported in the southern coastal city of Sidon.

"Some schools asked parents to come and collect their children after groups of 60 or 70 unarmed young men appeared early this morning in each of several neighbourhoods of west Beirut where Hezbollah and Amal have a presence," the security official said, referring to the two main Shi'ite parties in Lebanon.

Education Minister Hassan Mnaymneh urged parents to bring their children back to school and said classes would resume normally.

Last week, the Iranian-backed Shi'ite party forced the collapse of the government because of a long-running dispute with the Western-backed Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri - son of the slain leader - over the STL.