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Thousands Rally in Beirut To Honor Slain Former Prime Minister Hariri

Tens of thousands of Lebanese rallied in Beirut Sunday to mark the fifth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination.

He and 22 other people were killed in a truck bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005. U.N. investigators have accused Syria of plotting the attack, a charge Damascus denies.

Mr. Hariri's son and Lebanon's current prime minister, Saad Hariri, told the crowd Sunday that they are the heart of the movement that arose from the death of his father.

The prime minister defended a recent warming in his stance toward Syria that culminated with a meeting two months ago with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said he is keen on launching a new phase of ties between Lebanon and Syria as two sovereign, independent countries.

For three decades, Syria had a military presence in Lebanon. The protest movement after Rafiq Hariri's assassination succeeded in pressuring Syria to withdraw its troops in 2005.

Relations between the two neighbors later improved, with both agreeing to establish formal relations.

A recent defector from Saad Hariri's unity government, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, appeared at the rally to place a wreath of flowers on the elder Hariri's grave, but he did not stay to listen to the speeches that followed. Jumblatt's defection to a rival group was reported to have weakened the ruling coalition.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.