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Hariri Commemoration Turns into Anti-Lahoud and Assad Demonstration

(Retrieved from Naharnet on February 14, 2006)



Anti-Syria politicians launched a blistering attack against Emile Lahoud and his ally Bashar Assad as they addressed one million Lebanese gathered at Martyrs' Square to commemorate the one-year anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's killing.

Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblat and Samir Geagea, the three pillars of the March 14 alliance, gave the major speeches during the rally Tuesday. After paying tribute to Hariri and the other assassination victims, the leaders pledged to carry on the battle for independence by removing Lahoud.

Hariri described Lahoud as the "symbol of (Syrian) domination," in his address to the huge crowd.

"They left us with the legacy of their domination at Baabda (presidential palace) but we tell them to remove that legacy, remove the symbol of your oppression, the Lebanese people will not accept any bargaining," Hariri said.

His call was picked up by Jumblat who raised the tone of the accusation delivering a virulent attack against Lahoud and his Syrian backers.

"We say to the terrorist tyrant Bashar Assad that the Lebanese are free men. We say to him he can take back his agent Emile Lahoud," said the Druze leader.

Speaking on behalf of Beirut the Progressive Socialist Party leader added: "We are seeking revenge from Lahoud and Bashar."

Geagea, a Christian Maronite who is entitled to be president according to Lebanon's sectarian-based system, warned that Lahoud would not stay long in power.

"The presidency is ours and we will take it back whatever the price and no matter how long it takes," said the Lebanese Forces leader.

Geagea interrupted his speech when Hariri and Jumblat pushed their way through the crowd to join him at his podium. The three leaders stood arm in arm in their first meeting and public appearance together as a show of resolve to maintain a united front against Syria and its Lebanese allies.

All three are facing security threats and delivered their speeches from behind bullet-proof glass.

A human wave carrying red and white Lebanese flags covered the square as the demonstrators gathered in and around the center of the city. The crowds overwhelmed thousands of army troops and policemen deployed amid tight security measures.

Endless bus convoys poured into the capital from regions throughout the country to take part in the commemorative event. Entrances to Martyrs' Square were clogged with a sea of marchers from all ages and religious groups.

The demonstrators held banners demanding the resignation of President Emile Lahoud. Some of the signs read: "The extension killed Hariri," "Lahoud is unconstitutional." The president's term was extended in Sept. 2004 under Syrian pressure.

Others carried placards critical of Syria and its president, Bashar Assad. "Isn't it enough, Bashar?" said one, listing the names of anti-Syrian Lebanese who have been slain in other bombings over the last year.

"Yes, for the Syrian people. No to (Syrian) intelligence terrorism," read another.

At 12:55, that marks the exact time of the blast that killed Hariri, the crowd observed a moment of silence.

The organizers of the rally, dubbed the "gathering of loyalty and unity," spared no effort to match the March 14 protest when 1 million flag-waving Lebanese converged on the same spot to pressure Syria to withdraw and demand an international investigation of the assassination of Hariri.

The slain leader was buried along with seven of his companions at al Amin mosque that oversees Martyrs' Square, popularly renamed Freedom Square after his death.

All of the groups that make up the March 14 alliance made a strong showing at Tuesday's rally. Gen Michel Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement has since broken with the coalition, only sent political representatives.

The Shiite Hizbullah and Amal, both allies of Damascus, did the same.

Other speakers included Marwan Hamadeh, Nayla Tueni, Bassem Sabaa, Nayla Moawad and Nassib Lahoud. They made special dedications to Hariri and the 22 other people who died in the fateful blast on Beirut's seaside Corniche a year ago. One of the victims was former Trade and Economy Minister Bassel Fleihan who survived the bombing but died from severe burns two months later.

They also paid tribute to Samir Kassir, George Hawi and Gebran Tueni, key figures in the March 14 movement, who were assassinated last year.