Several hundred thousand people jammed Beirut's Martyrs' Square, Saturday, to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's. The demonstration is viewed by many as a show of support for the anti-Syrian March 14 movement in the leadup to legislative elections this spring.
A church bell tolled and the muezzin chanted Islam's call to prayer at the exact time, minutes before 1 p.m., when former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri was killed in a massive explosion, along Beirut's seafront boulevard, four years ago, Saturday.
Tens of thousands of supporters of the much-loved veteran prime minister waved Lebanese flags and portraits of Hariri on a brisk and windy winter day, as music blared loudly in the background.
Mr. Hariri's son, Sa'ad, who leads Lebanon's parliamentary majority, harangued the crowd, telling them that he, and his political allies in the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition hope to win this spring's parliamentary elections against the Hezbollah-backed opposition, and to applaud the international tribunal which will bring his father's killers to justice.
"We have returned to [Beirut's] Freedom Square to tell our Martyred Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, and all the other martyrs of our revolution for independence," he said. "The [International] Tribunal is about to begin work, and the truth will triumph over the oppressors, and the moment of justice has arrived for all those who participated in the series of crimes against Lebanon."
The leader of Lebanon's Druze minority, Walid Jumblatt, his voice hoarse and sounding tired, attacked the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but offered his hand in friendship to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah, insisting that the March 14 coalition had no enemies inside Lebanon.
"We have no internal enemies. So don't be afraid. Dialogue must prevail above all. We respect the [Hezbollah] martyrs and we hope that they respect our martyrs. Our enemy, alongside Israel is ignorance, grudges, and dictatorial regimes which prevent progress and stifle freedom," he said.
Jumblatt accused the Assad regime of using the Palestinian cause to "make a better deal for himself at the negotiating table [with Israel]."
Another tenor of the March 14 coalition, former Lebanese president Amine Gemayel, whose son Pierre was killed by assassins in 2006, also warned supporters that the upcoming parliamentary elections were "crucial to Lebanon's historic destiny," urging them "not to lose the positive accomplishments that the Cedar Revolution has brought during the past four years."
Former information minister Bassem Sabah went further than other speakers, insisting that the Lebanese people have no problem with "fraternal Syria" ... but he said, "we face an impossible situation with the regime of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad," as the crowd booed profusely.
Sabah also accused Syria and its allies of trying to prevent the anniversary demonstration.
He complained that there's been a campaign to prevent the Lebanese from commemorating the anniversary of Hariri's killing ... He said, "They don't want us to remember or to raise our flag in Martyrs' Square, or to celebrate the International Tribunal ... they want us to stay home, sad and afraid … as we used to do under the Syrian occupation."
The UN tribunal to try Rafiq Hariri's alleged killers will open its doors on March 1, at the former headquarters of the Dutch intelligence service, near The Hague.
It will also try those presumed to have plotted a series of attacks and killings of other top Lebanese politicians and journalists.