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Slain Lebanese Politician Laid to Rest in Beirut


In an unprecedented outpouring of national grief, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese attended the funeral of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut. Mr. Hariri, who is credited with rebuilding post-war Lebanon, was assassinated two days ago in a suspected suicide car bombing.

More than 200,000 people, many weeping openly, gathered to watch the funeral procession as it slowly moved along a three-kilometer route through downtown Beirut.

As police sirens wailed, Lebanese security forces pleaded with the heaving crowd to back away from the ambulance carrying the flag-draped coffin containing Mr. Hariri's body to the burial site.

Grieving relatives, including his three sons, laid the body to rest in an enormous, unfinished mosque, which the politician had helped to build.

Outside the mosque, thousands chanted in Arabic "There is no God but Allah," as they scrambled to touch the casket in a sign of deep respect.

Church bells also tolled loudly across the city, a sign of Mr. Hariri's ability to reach across Lebanon's different religious and ethnic communities. The communities still bear physical and emotional scars from the country's vicious 16-year civil war, which ended in 1990.

Mr. Hariri, a self-made billionaire, entered Lebanon's fractious political scene during the war and served as prime minister for all but five years of the country's prosperous post-war period.

His assassination on Monday left many Lebanese in a state of shock and nervousness. Twenty five year-old Sam Shahab, a student at the American University in Beirut, says he fears that the killing could mark the beginning of another period of instability in the country.

"As a Lebanese person, I think it is a disaster and we are afraid. What is next? Maybe who is next? But I am sure something will happen. Hopefully, it will not be strong as what happened on Monday," Mr. Shahab says.

It is not known who was behind the massive car bombing, which killed 16 other people and wounded more than 120. But suspicion has fallen on neighboring Syria, which has a strong military and political presence in Lebanon. About 15,000 Syrian troops have been stationed here since the end of the civil war.

The Syrian government denies responsibility for the blast.

Mr. Hariri resigned as prime minister several-months ago when the Parliament agreed to extend the term of Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, for another three years. After his resignation, Mr. Hariri called for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Even though Washington has not directly accused the government in Damascus of playing any role in the bombing, the United States has recalled its ambassador to Syria in protest.

Fearing violence, Mr. Hariri's family asked Syrian and Lebanese government officials stay away from his funeral.

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