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Thousands in Beirut Mark 5th Anniversary of Hariri Assassination

  • Paige Kollock

Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Thousands of people flocked to downtown Beirut to commemorate the occasion. His death in 2005 inspired the Cedar Revolution, a series of popular uprisings that forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon after nearly 30 years of occupation.

On a warm February day, loyalists of the March 14th political alliance descended on Liberty Square in downtown Beirut. Young, old, Christian and Muslim, they carried flags and danced in the street to traditional Lebanese songs.

Many predicted this year's turnout at the rally would be low because of a growing disenchantment with the March 14th leadership. But the square was packed, and the crowd was enthusiastic.

"The blood of Rafik Hariri didn't go as a waste," said this marcher. He added that Hariri's murder " liberated Lebanon."

Another marcher vowed to continue along the path set by the slain prime minister.

Rafik Hariri, father of Lebanon's current Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and 22 other people were killed in a truck bombing in Beirut five years ago. U.N. investigators have accused Syria of plotting the attack, a charge Damascus denies.

One month after the bombing - on March 14 - the popular-based Cedar Revolution ensued to force Syrian troops from Lebanon, try Hariri's assassins and establish free elections.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri addressed the crowd, reassuring them that Lebanon would remain strong and independent.

"Five years," he said, "and we still meet here at the same place. Five years and I still stand here with Lebanon, with my respected Lebanese people, with the martyr of Lebanon, Arabian people, democracy, independence, freedom - the martyred Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," he said.

Critics say the goals of the Cedar Revolution have not been met. No one has been convicted by the U.N.-backed tribunal established to try suspects in Hariri's murder. And although Syrian military forces are out of Lebanon, Damascus maintains a strong influence through the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

But March 14 supporters are patient.

"The tribunal we still have waiting for the international tribunal we have no problem. We're waiting. It's going take maybe months, maybe years, and so all the main objectives of the 14 of March objectives we believe like eighty ninety percent were achieved," he said.

Prime Minister Hariri recently visited Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a visit that some critics say undermines the U.N. investigation. But others say it shows that Mr. Hariri is not afraid of Syria and Lebanon's sovereignty is strong enough that its leaders are ready to re-establish diplomatic relations after years of mistrust.