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Tearful Lebanon Sees Hariri to his Grave Amid Thunder of Anti-Syria Chants


Posted on February 18, 2005 at 10:20 pm

A tearful Lebanon gave slain ex-premier Rafik Hariri a national union farewell Wednesday. Church bells rang in blended unison with verses of the Koran rhymed out from Mosque minarets as an estimated one million mourners walked behind his flag-draped coffin to the last resting place.

Thunderous chants of "Syria out" and "death to Syria" echoed from the anguished mourners as they waved a forest of Lebanese flags and huge portraits of the fallen statesman who is credited with rebuilding Beirut from the ravages of a 15-year civil war.


There were also chants against Syrian President Bashar Assad in person. "Bashar, Bashar, Sunni blood does not go to waste," a sea of mourners shouted, pledging allegiance to Hariri's eldest son, Bahaeddine, as the sect's political leader after the killing of his 60-year-old father.


The chants reflected the conviction of Hariri's family and Lebanon's opposition leaders that Syria's secret service engineered his assassination in collaboration with the state-run Lebanese intelligence apparatus, a contention shared by the U.S., France and the U.N. Security Council.


Hariri's coffin was mounted on an ambulance top as the funeral procession wound through the streets of Beirut with thousands of candles burning on sidewalks. His casket was followed by the six coffins of the bodyguards who were killed with him in the assassination blast on Monday. Wailing women on balconies tossed roses at the procession.


Midway through the six kilometer procession the coffins were taken off the ambulances and carried shoulder-high through the rest of the trek to the courtyard of the downtown Al Amin mosque.


Senior government officials from across the world walked behind the coffins in the on-foot funeral from which President Lahoud, Premier Karami and most of the 30 cabinet ministers of his government were excluded at the request of Hariri's family, which blamed the "regime of assassins" for his death.


Hariri's wife Nazek, sister Bahia and young daughter Hind sobbed and kissed the coffin before it was taken off a make-shift rotunda for a farewell tour of Koreitem's gardens on the palms of weeping supporters. The emotion-charged journey to Hariri's grave at Al Amin mosque then rolled out.


Hariri's four sons led the procession flanked by Sunni Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Rashid Kabbani and Muslim, Christian and Druze opposition leaders. His wife, sister and daughter rode inside the ambulance that carried his casket.


"I may be the next," Druze leader Walid Jumblat, Hariri's closest political ally who is spearheading the drive to terminate Syria's tutelage over Lebanon, was overheard saying. "We have a regime of assassins."


Thousands upon thousands of mourners flocked to Koreitem since midnight to walk behind Hariri's coffin as the on-foot popular funeral got underway, winding through main streets lined by candles burning on both sides. The family rejected an offer by President Lahoud's regime to give the 'fallen hero' a state funeral.


Jumblat, whose Progressive Socialist Party arranged for more than a 100,000 mourners to flock in from the Druze hinterland southeast of Beirut, estimated the size of the procession at more than one million.


It was the biggest funeral in Lebanon's modern history, marked by the first ever outburst of the Sunni community against Syria's 28-year-old tutelage.


When the procession reached the downtown mosque, farewell chants reached a thunderous crescendo. His son Baha, the political heir apparent, got onto the shoulders of supporters to plead with the crowd for calm so as the Muslim last rites be performed to allow his father's coffin be lowered into the mausoleum-like grave.