Thousands rally in Lebanon on Hariri anniversary
POSTED: 9:38 a.m. EST, February 14, 2007
Retrieved from CNN on Feb 14, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Tens of thousands packed into a city square Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination as hundreds of troops were deployed a day after bus bombings killed three people.
Troops in full combat gear and armored cars deployed in and around Martyrs' Square, where the country's two main rival groups were present: government supporters commemorating Hariri's death and opposition supporters continuing their daily sit-in to demand the government's resignation.
The soldiers set up a razor wire barrier to separate the two groups, and police conducted body searches of people arriving in the square.
At exactly 12:55 p.m. -- the time of the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others -- the crowd fell silent except for a muezzin making the Islamic call to prayer and the tolling of a church bell. Standing at the speaker's podium, Hariri's son, Saad, and sister, Bahiya, prayed.
The speakers addressed the crowd from behind bulletproof glass, calling for approval of a U.N.-created tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri assassination. The tribunal's ratification has been held up by political dispute.
A respected Shiite cleric from southern Lebanon, Ali Amin, criticized the Shiite-backed opposition parties, Hezbollah and Amal, for failing to strike a deal with the government. The two parties withdrew from the Cabinet last year.
"Our fate is through agreement and the mechanism is to return to the logic of the state and institutions," said Amin, without naming Hezbollah and Amal. Referring to the failure to ratify the tribunal, he said "it was strange" to oppose justice.
Explosions stoke fears
Tuesday's explosions on commuter buses on a busy mountain highway northeast of Beirut stoked fears of turmoil as the country prepared to mark the 2005 assassination of Hariri, the nation's most prominent politician and the leader credited with rebuilding the country from the destruction of the 1975-90 civil war.
Lebanon has suffered a series of bombings during the past two years, mostly targeting anti-Syrian figures, but Tuesday's attacks were the first that seemed intended to cause maximum casualties among civilians of no political affiliation.
"We will hunt down the criminals and confront them," Prime Minister Fuad Saniora vowed in a televised speech Tuesday evening.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the bombing, urging all Lebanese parties to exercise restraint and stressing its support for the government.
The pro-government majority in parliament said it held "the Syrian regime fully responsible for this despicable crime." Syria routinely denies involvement in Lebanese unrest.
Government supporters said the blasts were intended to scare people away from Wednesday's commemoration. They urged their supporters to show up in large numbers.
The government, which has faced down months of demonstrations calling for its resignation, declared Wednesday a national holiday, closing schools, universities, banks and public institutions in a move that would allow for a big turnout.
In a bid to allow the anniversary to pass peacefully, the major opposition figure, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, praised the late Hariri in a letter published on the front page of As-Safir newspaper Wednesday. Nasrallah said Hariri's killing in a massive truck bomb on Feb. 14, 2005, was a loss for the whole country.
Finding the perpetrators has become "a collective national demand," Nasrallah wrote.
Hariri and 22 others were killed in a huge explosion that occurred as his motorcade was passing through central Beirut. He was buried a few blocks away from the site. Outrage over the assassination forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon two months later, ending a 29-year presence.
A U.N. investigation into the assassination is continuing, but Lebanon has been hit by a string of bombings in the past two years that many government supporters blame on Syria. Syria has denied any role in the attacks, including the Hariri assassination.
None of the perpetrators has been caught from the series of bombings, which killed four anti-Syrian figures, wounded two others, and occasionally have struck public areas, killing three people.
Tuesday's bus bombings, however, were the first time that an attack appeared aimed to exact maximum casualties on civilians with no political affiliation.
The blasts fueled tension in the power struggle where the opposition, led by the Syrian- and Iranian -backed Hezbollah, has vowed to bring down Saniora's government. The opposition has demanded an enlargement of its representation in the coalition Cabinet to give it a veto on decision making.
Saniora, who is backed by a slim parliamentary majority and many foreign states such as France and the United States, has rejected the opposition's demands. The Hariri parliamentary faction and other pro -government groups have accused Hezbollah of doing Syria's bidding.
Assad Attacked, Hizbullah Mocked on Hariri's Assassination Anniversary
Retrieved from Naharnet on Feb 14, 2007
Lebanon's majority leaders told a sea of supporters marking the second anniversary of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in Beirut that agreeing on the international tribunal to try his murderers is the only gateway to dialogue and unity.
Hundreds of thousands of March 14 supporters streamed from north, east, central and south Lebanon to Martyrs' Square in cars, busses, and boats raising Lebanese flags and chanting slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea said the international tribunal, which Syria reportedly rejects, "will certainly be created."
He stressed that "whoever fights against what is right will be knocked out … The international tribunal will certainly be created."
Geagea escalated the confrontation with Hizbullah pledging that "henceforth, we will not accept any weapons outside the Lebanese army's frame of control...The Lebanese army is the resistance, the Lebanese government is the resistance, the Lebanese people is the resistance."
Geagea's words drew thundering chants of support that echoed across the whole of Beirut and reached the ears of protestors taking part in a Hizbullah-led sit in at the nearby Riad Solh Square since Dec. 1 with the declared objective of toppling Premier Fouad Saniora's majority government.
Addressing President Emile Lahoud, whose term in office was extended for three years under Syrian pressure in 2004, Geagea said: "History has settled its account with any tyrant …at the end (of your term) you will go away to history's garbage dump."
At 12:55 p.m., the exact time of the one-ton explosion that killed Hariri two years ago, an angry crowd fell silent as church bells tolled and mosque minarets blared Allah Akbar chants.
Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblat stressed in his address that the year 2007 will see the creation of the international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri murder and related crimes.
"We will not surrender to terrorism and to authoritarian parties, be they Syrian or otherwise," Jumblat said as the crowd applauded and shouted slogans attacking Assad, his regime and his Lebanese allies in the Hizbullah-led opposition.
Addressing Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah without mentioning him by name, Jumblat said: "Give the weapons to the Lebanese army and the hay to your allies."
He was referring to Hizbullah weapons confiscated last week concealed in a truck loaded with hay.
The government delivered the weapons to the Lebanese army in south Lebanon, ignoring calls by Hizbullah which claims the weapons are needed by its resistance arm.
Jumblat stressed that "from now on there will be no weapons except what is controlled by the Lebanese army."
He was obviously escalating calls to disarm Hizbullah.
Jumblat also stressed that "we adhere to international (U.N. Security Council) resolutions. All international resolutions," in reference to resolution 1559 which was adopted in the year 2004 and called for disbanding and disarming all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, a reference to Hizbullah and pro -Syrian Palestinian factions operating in Lebanon.
Jumblat launched a vehement attack on Assad terming him "a snake .. a beast .. an Israeli product .. a liar .. a criminal."
Parliamentary Majority leader Saad Hariri, son of the slain ex-premier, delivered an emotional speech in which he thanked all those who took part in the ceremony and stressed that the Lebanese are "committed to freedom, independence, the truth, justice and the international tribunal."
"We adhere to justice to punish the murderers" who committed the Hariri killings and related crimes, he said.
He condemned recent "aggressions on peaceful neighborhoods" by masked followers of the Hizbullah-led opposition on Jan. 23.
"Despite all that, we are in the final phase of the march to create the international tribunal soon, very soon," Hariri said.
"Lebanon will be victorious and Lebanon's enemies will be defeated," he pledged.
Hariri's speech was interrupted with applause and chants attacking the Assad regime.
The majority leader concluded by stressing that "we are ready for any brave decision in favor of Lebanon … but the international tribunal is the sole gateway to any solution."