A massive crowd of at least several-hundred-thousand Lebanese gathered in central Beirut to mark the third anniversary of the explosion that killed the country's much-loved former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. His assassination sparked anti-Syrian protests that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.
It was a somber day to mark a somber event, as rain drenched tens of thousands of Lebanese who had come to Beirut's city center to commemorate the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in a massive explosion, three years ago, today.
A bell tolled to mark the exact minute, shortly before 1:00 PM local time, that Mr. Hariri was killed in his motorcade, on a seaside avenue, facing the once-renowned Saint-George Hotel.
Members of the former prime minister's family, along with those of more than 20 other victims of the February 14, 2005 explosion, paid homage at a new monument, where an eternal flame burns on the spot where Mr. Hariri died.
Despite the rain, an enthusiastic crowd of young people, many beating drums and chanting slogans fought its way, amid a sea of humanity, to the center of Beirut, where top leaders of the country's pro-Western ruling coalition addressed them.
Throughout the series of speeches, more people continued to pour into Beirut from Tripoli in the north, Sidon in the south, and along the Damascus highway, through the mountains overlooking the city. The country's north-south coastal highway appeared clogged with people on foot, many waving Lebanese flags, as far as the eye could see.
Among Lebanon's top leaders who came to honor the slain former prime minister, Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt paid an emotional tribute to him, condemning his killers, as well as both Syria and Iran, which support the opposition pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies.
"We are present here to pay tribute to you, comrade Rafiq, and to all those whose blood has been spilled, and to condemn your killers, and other mercenaries who served them," he said.
Both Damascus and Tehran deny involvement in Mr. Hariri's death.
On the other side of the city, in Beirut's mostly Shi'ite southern suburbs the pro-Syrian Hezbollah guerilla group also held a counter-demonstration to condemn the killing Tuesday of terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
Hezbollah and its top ally, Iran, accused Israel of orchestrating the blast. Israel has denied involvement in the death of Mughniyeh, who was implicated in deadly attacks against Western and Israeli targets in the 1980s and 1990s.
A massive presence of army troops, police sharpshooters, and civil defense personnel along routes leading into Beirut kept careful control of crowds.