Trial of Hariri murder suspects delayed over public holiday

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The trial of the alleged killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri will open on January 16, three days later than originally planned because of a Muslim holiday, the UN-backed tribunal said Tuesday.

The decision was made after consulting the parties to the case at the trial chamber's last public hearing in The Hague.

Four members of militant Shiite group Hezbollah are to be tried in absentia for the suicide bombing that killed billionaire Hariri and 22 others on the Beirut seafront in 2005.

A fifth wanted suspect, Hassan Habib Merhi, was indicted in October after a pre-trial judge confirmed that he was "accused of being involved in the 14 February 2005 attack".

The trial will start at 9:30 am (0830 GMT) with opening statements by the prosecutor, the legal representatives of the victims participating in the proceedings, as well as opening statements, if any, for the defence.

The trial chamber also announced that there would be a pre-trial conference on January 9.

The start of the trial was postponed as January 13 coincides with celebrations marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, a public holiday in Lebanon.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued warrants against four accused -- Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra -- in June 2011, and Interpol has issued a "red notice" for the suspects but none has been arrested so far.

Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy, vowing that none of the suspects will be arrested.

Hariri, from Lebanon's Sunni minority, was opposed to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, while Shiite Hezbollah is closely linked to Damascus. The group adamantly denies responsibility for the attack.

© 2013 AFP

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