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Lebanon Marks Hariri Anniversary With Show of Unity


Central Beirut was awash in Lebanese flags as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to mark the first anniversary of the death of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. He was killed by a massive bomb blast one year ago, an attack that eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut was a sea of red, white, and green, the colors of the Lebanese flag. Hundreds of thousands of people waved the flag, singing patriotic songs, and chanting anti-Syrian slogans.

Security was tight in the square, which is next to Mr. Hariri's grave. Men and women were searched on arrival, a sign of the security troubles that have plagued Lebanon for the past year.

The killing of Rafik al-Hariri one year ago triggered a wave of outrage and street protests that drove Syrian troops out of the country, and put an anti-Syrian majority in parliament for the first time. But his death was only one of a string of assassinations and attempted killings that have shaken Lebanese society.

A U.N. investigation has linked Syria to the Hariri assasination, and many Lebanese see Syria behind the other killings too.

At the anniversary rally, many demonstrators carried signs and banners reading simply, "The Truth", a slogan that has become common as Lebanese demand an international investigation into the assassinations.

A young woman named Yara expressed the feelings of many.

"I just hope that the truth will be revealed, and that everything goes back to normal again, even though it will never be the same again without Mr. Hariri ... We can never give up hoping," she said. "We have to wish for the best so that it happens. We cannot just stand and watch the darkness and never try to do anything."

One purpose of the rally was to reinforce the unity on display in the weeks following Mr. Hariri's death, but which many say began to fade as political alliances emerged surrounding the parliamentary election.

Yara's older brother, Hani, waves at the crowd and points out that five generations of Lebanese are gathered in the square, and all segments of Lebanon's diverse society.

"And as you see, there are Muslims, Christians, Druze, everyone in the same place," he said. "This is Lebanon. This is Lebanon."

Many Lebanese view last week's burning of the Danish consulate and rioting in the Christian neighborhood where it is located as a deliberate attempt to sow sectarian resentment and push Lebanon back into civil war.

The demonstrators made it clear that they have no intention of traveling back down that road. A young man named Hisham al-Gowhari had a message for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

"We are not afraid to anyone, especially Syria," he said. "Civil war will not happen again in Lebanon. This is what Mr. Bashar must know, that civil war will not be in Lebanon, any time or any place. Muslim and Christian are together. This is what you are seeing. No civil war."

The shadows of the past have not vanished. Looming over downtown Beirut is the shattered shell of what used to be the Holiday Inn hotel. It now stands empty, riddled with rocket craters and pockmarked with bullet holes.

The rally to mark Mr. Hariri's death took place not far from that hotel, in Martyrs' Square, which is not just next to his gravesite, but also in the shadow of a giant mosque that he helped build. That mosque is a symbol for many Lebanese, of a man who deserves much of the credit for rebuilding central Beirut while he lived, and whose death helped the shattered country bridge its lingering sectarian divides.

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