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UN PROSECUTOR HAILS INDICTMENT OVER HARIRI'S DEATH

By NBF News
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CANADIAN prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, who filed his first indictment in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has hailed the move as a landmark in efforts to end impunity for political slayings in the strife-torn country.

Bellemare said in a video statement that the confidential indictment at the United Nations (UN)-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon was an important moment for the people of Lebanon, the international community and 'for those who believe in international justice.'

Meanwhile, Hezbollah supporters early yesterday gathered in the streets of Beirut after the UN tribunal filed indictments in the assassination of Hariri, prompting several schools to close as nervous parents pulled their children from class.

The Associated Press (AP) sighted no fewer than four gatherings of up to 30 people each, dressed in black and carrying hand-held radios.    One gathering was about 400 metres (1,300 feet) from the Grand Serail, the seat of government in downtown Beirut, and security officials closed the roads leading to the building.

Bellemare made the statement the day after he announced he had handed the indictment to the court's pretrial judge, Daniel Fransen, for confirmation. The statement appeared aimed at cooling tensions in Lebanon, where many people fear the charges could lead to fresh violence.

Bellemare said he had made good on a promise to the people of Lebanon to do 'everything that is humanly and legally possible' to bring the assassins to justice.

Many people expect members of the Shiite militant group, Hezbollah, to be identified in Bellemare's indictment. Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the February 14, 2005, truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on Beirut's Mediterranean sea front.

The Iran- and Syria-sponsored Hezbollah calls the tribunal a conspiracy by Israel and the United States.

The contents of the draft indictment filed on Monday were not revealed and may not become public for weeks as Belgian judge Fransen decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

Separately, the World Food Programme is nearly $3 billion short this year in its fight against global hunger, and the gap is likely to grow if food prices keep rising.

The head of the UN agency, Josette Sheeran, said in an interview that the shortfall amounts to almost half of what the agency needs.

Sheeran said after touring the Palestinian city of Hebron, where she inspected an electronic food voucher project meant to streamline distribution of food to the needy.

The system was first tried out in the West Bank in 2009 and has since been introduced in several other places.

'Part of why I have come to the Palestinian territories is to send the message to the world that we are in a funding crisis,' Sheeran said.   The UN's front line agency against hunger relies on voluntary contributions from governments, corporations and individuals. The agency needs about $6 billion this year, but is about $2.8 billion short, Sheeran said.

'When people are hungry, they only have three options – they revolt, they migrate or they die,' she said, adding that it's more cost effective to prevent hunger than to deal with its consequences.

Sheeran said the funding shortfall is likely to grow, since the current figures have not taken into account another food crisis, a possibility raised by the World Bank and others.

Hunger has been on the rise since the financial and food crises of 2008, she said, and more than one billion people are reduced to one meal a day.

'If food prices escalate again, the most vulnerable in the world will lose the one meal a day they are having,' she said. 'If food prices double, that means one meal every two days.'

Sheeran carries with her a red plastic cup to illustrate how little it would take to ensure children don't go to school hungry. It would cost about one euro to fill that cup once a day for a week, she said.

The future is at stake, she said. Children who get at least one daily meal stay in school and study better.

I n the West Bank, about 75,000 school children benefit from the program. Instead of a cup of food, they get milk and a date bar made in Saudi Arabia. The aim is to find a local producer to help boost the struggling Palestinian economy, Sheeran said.

The West Bank has been a testing ground for the electronic food voucher, a debit card with which beneficiaries buy their staples when they need them at local stores, rather than having to report to distribution centers at fixed times.

The electronic vouchers have since been introduced elsewhere, including among Iraqi refugees in Syria and in the Philippines.

The vouchers work in urban areas where food is available but those relying on aid can't afford to buy it. The system cuts down on transport costs, brings more business to participating stores and injects more demand into the local economy, agency officials said.