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Tags: Lebanon | Hariri | slain | premier

Lebanese Rally for Slain Premier Hariri

Sunday, 14 February 2010 09:52 PM EST

BEIRUT — Tens of thousands of supporters of Lebanon's majority "March 14" camp gathered in Beirut on Sunday for a rally marking the fifth anniversary of the slaying of former premier Rafiq Hariri.

"Five years ago, you came down to this very square to demand justice and freedom... and we are not turning back," Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain premier, told the cheering crowd in downtown Beirut.

Rafiq Hariri's assassination in a massive car bombing on February 14, 2005, that also killed 22 other people, saw the rise of a US- and Saudi-backed alliance that became known as March 14.

It was named after a day of massive anti-Syrian protests dubbed the "Cedar Revolution."

Combined with international pressure, the protests led to the pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April 2005 after a 29-year presence.

Saad Hariri, who heads March 14, has two parliamentary election wins under his belt and now leads a unity government which includes the Syrian-backed former opposition led by Hezbollah.

His visit to Damascus in December and the softening of his stance against Syria, whom he had openly accused of his father's murder, have been viewed as signs that the March 14 movement was losing steam.

Damascus has also since last year broken out of its international isolation, enjoying warmer ties with both Washington and Riyadh, Hariri's main backers.

Addressing the commemoration on Sunday, the prime minister said his visit to Damascus was "part of inter-Arab reconciliation" efforts launched by Saudi King Abdullah, who preceded him to the Syrian capital.

"My visit to Syria was part of that initiative," Hariri said, prompting jeers from the crowd in downtown Beirut. "I am keen on launching a new phase of ties between Lebanon and Syria as two sovereign, independent countries."

Hariri's ally Amin Gemayel, a former president who heads the Christian Maronite Phalange Party, said the path to reconciliation with Syria was a long one.

"We want Syria to take concrete steps, with a deadline, to bring to an end issues that are still hanging between our countries," said Gemayel. His son and former cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel was gunned down in 2006.

March 14 has demanded Damascus uncover the fate of thousands of Lebanese who went missing during Syria's military rule over Lebanon and cooperate in the demarcation of formal borders between the two countries.

Maronite leader Samir Geagea, another Hariri ally and head of the Lebanese Forces, called on Hezbollah to "place its arms in the service of the state."

March 14 has repeatedly locked horns with the Hezbollah over its arms, calling for the Shiite militant party to give them up in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution.

Hariri's alliance was dealt a major blow when Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, once the most vociferous critic of Syria, defected in 2009 to move closer to the rival Hezbollah-led camp backed by Damascus and Tehran.

But on Sunday Jumblatt joined Hariri at the rally and placed a wreath of flowers on Rafiq Hariri's grave although he did not stay for the speeches.

Former MP Elias Atallah, one of the first leaders of March 14, told AFP that the movement had "certainly made mistakes, but we owe it to the people who are here today to keep going.

"There are still a number of aims we have not fulfilled, namely limiting arms in Lebanon to the army, creating stable, sovereign state institutions and seeing the (Hariri) tribunal through."

An international tribunal was set up by a Security Council resolution in 2007 to try suspects in the Hariri murder, as well as the killings of seven other prominent anti-Syrian figures in a chain of subsequent assassinations.

A UN commission of inquiry initially said it had found evidence to implicate Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services but there are no suspects in custody. Damascus has denied any involvement.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, 14 February 2010 09:52 PM
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