French FM to visit Lebanon amid crisis over Hariri tribunal

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France's foreign minister will travel to Beirut on Friday for a brief visit aimed at discussing mounting tensions over a UN probe into the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, a Lebanese government official said.

"Bernard Kouchner is coming to Lebanon to discuss the latest developments linked to the crisis over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

Kouchner is set to meet with President Michel Sleiman, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain former premier.

France has been a staunch backer of the STL, which was set up in the aftermath of Hariri's 2005 assassination in a massive bombing.

However the court has become the focal point of a standoff between the Western-backed coalition headed by Saad Hariri and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed militant group Hezbollah.

There are unconfirmed reports that the court stands to indict members of Hezbollah for Hariri's murder and the group has rejected such an outcome and called for the Lebanese to boycott the work of the tribunal.

The crisis has raised fears of a sectarian outbreak of violence pitting Hariri's mainly Sunni supporters against the Shiite Hezbollah, by far the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon.

© 2010 AFP

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