Lebanese rally to mark Hariri's death
Updated: 2006-02-15 09:26
BEIRUT: At least half a million Lebanese packed central Beirut on Tuesday, a
year to the day after the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri,
giving new impetus to Lebanon's anti-Syrian coalition.
demonstrator displays a poster of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri
during a gathering marking the first anniversary of Hariri's assassination
in Beirut, February 14, 2006. [Reuters]
The turnout was reminiscent of huge protests after last year's February 14
killing of Hariri and 22 others.
Those demonstrations, coupled with international pressure, forced Syria to
end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon, although Damascus denies any role
in the assassination.
Syria's Lebanese foes said Tuesday's rally would revive a campaign to force
pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to quit and to punish those behind the truck
bombing that killed Hariri.
"By being present here today, you foil the conspiracy ... against Lebanon,
against Rafik al-Hariri, against Lebanon's freedom, independence and dignity,"
the former prime minister's son and political heir Saad al-Hariri told the crowd
from behind bullet-proof glass.
Believing he, too, could be killed, Hariri has spent more than six months
abroad, but returned for the anniversary.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United
States remained united with the people of Lebanon in bringing those responsible
for Hariri's killing to justice.
AdvertisementAdvertisementFor the past year, the coalition of Sunni Muslim,
Christian and Druze political forces which organised the rally has been
demanding Lahoud's resignation and the truth about Hariri's assassination, which
it blames on Damascus.
But it has been weakened by internal squabbling, a wave of bombings and
killings, and regional pressure.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt denounced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the
"tyrant of Damascus" and demanded that Lahoud leave the presidential palace in
Baabda, near Beirut.
"Bashar the terrorist brought you, and the Lebanese people will get rid of
you," he said, addressing Lahoud.
"Oh Beirut, we want revenge on Lahoud and Bashar," added Jumblatt, who rarely
ventures from his mountain home, fearing assassination. "There will be no
independence, no sovereignty while the symbol of the Syrian regime sits in
In Damascus, few ordinary Syrians were concerned about the Beirut rally,
saying the Hariri issue has turned into a U.S.-backed campaign aimed at
destabilising Syria and blaming it for divisions among the Lebanese.
At 12:55 (10:55 a.m. British time), the exact time of the seafront explosion
that hit Hariri's motorcade, the Beirut crowd observed a minute's silence
followed by chants of "Syria out".