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Biggest Opposition Demo Swears to Break Syria's Stranglehold and Lahoud's Regime

Posted on March 15-2005 at 11:00 am

Lebanon's opposition staged the biggest show of force in the nation's modern history from slain ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's graveside Monday, taking a thunderous oath to break Syria's ruthless stranglehold and tear apart President Lahoud's police state of "secret service phantoms."

Between 1.5 and 2 million opposition activists converged on Beirut's downtown Martyrs Square and surrounding neighborhoods to mark the lapse of one month on Hariri's assassination. They shouted slogans demanding the resignation of all security commanders in Lebanon because of dereliction of duty in stopping the assassination.


The demonstration was so huge that Syria's loyalists led by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Hizbullah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement, who pose as standard-bearers of the Shiite community were dwarfed into an overwhelmed minority.


What made the trick was the massive turnout of the Sunni sect onto the streets of the capital to defy Syria's tutelage. Crowds from densely-populated Sunni neighborhoods stood shoulder-to-shoulder with opposition activists from various Christian communities and Walid Jumblat's Druze sect, chanting "we want the truth, we want sovereignty, we want Syria out." The Sunnis make up the biggest bloc among Lebanon's eligible voters.


One poster brandished among an ocean of Lebanese flags read "long live Syria inside Syria." Another poster read "President Lahoud, rest assured your turn is coming," a reference that he might be overthrown over Hariri's assassination.


Legislator Marwan Hamadeh, who survived an assassination attempt in October, formally opened the sit-in protest by declaring that the massive opposition was "writing the end of President Lahoud's police state and its Syrian backers." He drew thunderous cheers when he announced "this is the end to the one whose regime has been extended and to those who extended his regime." Hamadeh, a former minister under Hariri's premiership, said "the days of the secret service, the days of the ghosts are numbered."


Another moving address was delivered to the crowds by An Nahar's General Manager Gebran Tueni who declared "you are the biggest party in Lebanon. You are the party of Lebanon." He left the impression that the opposition Party of Lebanon was bigger than the Party of God.


Hundreds of thousands trekked overland and by sea in bus and motorboat convoys to fill the sprawling Martyrs Square and the nearby Riad Solh Square to the brim. Thousands upon thousands assembled at rooftops and nearby highway passes in what old-timers said was the biggest demonstration since Lebanon's 1943 independence.


There were outspoken charges before the demonstration leveled by opposition leaders, accusing the Lahoud regime of standing behind the assassination.


"The secret services have become a death machine, a death mill toiling without letup," had said Hariri's parliament bloc member Walid Ido.


Ido spoke on Hariri's Future-TV network screen a few hours after ex-Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul directly accused the Lahoud regime of involvement in Hariri's assassination, revealing that a police unit assigned to protect the ex-premier was withdrawn a few days before the crime.


"Hariri had worked out an agreement with President Lahoud to have the police unit assigned to protect and escort him as a former prime minister. The force was actually put on the job and it functioned from Hariri's Koreitem mansion," Dalloul said in an interview aired by the F-TV Sunday night.


"When Hariri's aides managed to reach the official responsible for the protection unit, he said Hariri has plenty of money and he can hire his own security apparatus," said Dalloul, a parliament member who served as defense minister in one of Hariri's governments.


"The crime took place a few days later and now officials are boasting that 'the crime is behind us,' which means they have committed the crime," Dalloul added.


Massive protest marks Hariri death


Posted on March 14, 2005 at 11:00 am


BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Beirut Monday for a massive opposition rally four weeks to the day since Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated.

Flag-waving crowds from across Lebanon flooded into Martyrs' Square in central Beirut, just meters (yards) from Hariri's grave.

They are demanding an international inquiry into his February 14 killing, the resignation of Lebanese security chiefs and a total Syrian withdrawal.

"This is a tremendously large crowd, the size of which is unprecendented in Lebanon's modern history," said CNN's Brent Sadler in Beirut. "It is truly massive and cannot be ignored."

Organizers are aiming to draw 1 million protesters, which would double the estimated 500,000 turnout for a massive pro-Syria demonstration organized by Hezbollah last week. Wire services estimated Monday's turnout at around 800,000.

Protesters waved banners demanding "Syria Out" and unfurled a 100-meter (yard) red-and-white Lebanese flag with the distinct green cedar tree in the middle.

Some sang the national anthem, while others chanted "Truth, Freedom, National Unity," or "We want only the Lebanese army in Lebanon," The Associated Press reported.

Crowds of men, women and children spilled into nearby streets, while more from across the country packed the roads into Beirut.

"We are coming to liberate our country. We are coming to demand the truth," Fatma Trad, a veiled Sunni Muslim woman who traveled from the remote region of Dinniyeh in northern Lebanon to take part, told AP.

"We are determined to liberate our country and we will not stop," Farid Samaha, a 32-year-old banker, said.

Many on Monday carried pictures of Hariri, and cars on street corners blared his speeches. "We miss you," read one large banner.

The crowd fell silent at 12:55 p.m. (1055 GMT), the exact time Hariri was killed four weeks ago. Churchs bells tolled in the silence.

The presence of 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon has stirred mass outrage after Hariri's assassination, which many Lebanese blame on the Damascus-backed government and Syria.

Syria has denied any involvement. It started to pull out some troops to eastern Lebanon last week because of intense pressure from opposition parties and world leaders for complete and immediate withdrawal.

On Sunday, a top U.N. envoy brought word from Damascus that Syria had given a timetable for the withdrawal of all troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

While he could not give specifics on what he called the "historic" move, diplomat Terje Roed-Larsen said after meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad that he was heading back to U.N. headquarters in New York to report the details to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday while she hadn't had a chance to talk to the diplomat, she saw "positive elements" coming out of his meeting with Assad.

Syrian officials say they are following U.N. Resolution 1559 as well as the 1989 Taif Accord that legitimized Syria's presence in Lebanon at the end of a bitter civil war there but called for a later withdrawal.

Assad is committed to fulfilling obligations in Resolution 1559 that call for withdrawing all foreign forces from Lebanon, Roed-Larsen added.

Syrian cabinet minister Bouthaina Shaaban told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" Sunday that the first stage will see all troops withdrawn to the border by the end of March and they could "probably" be in Syria before Lebanese elections in May.

"I think the troops will meet a very fast timetable," she said.

Other aspects of the resolution -- such as the existence of militias and the country's independence and political sovereignty -- are still being discussed.

But the crisis involving Lebanon and Syria isn't over. The international community and the key players "need to see deeds," and now there are simply hopeful "words," Roed-Larsen said.

Hariri's assassination four weeks ago also led to Prime Minister Omar Karami's resignation. But he was renominated as prime minister following last week's massive pro-Syria demonstration organized by Hezbollah.

Many Arabs see Hezbollah as heroic for helping drive Israeli forces from Lebanon. Israel pulled its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Hezbollah has carried out numerous terrorist attacks against civilians and is listed by the United States and Israel as a terrorist organization. It remains an official party in Lebanon.

U.S. officials have called on both Lebanon and Syria to halt support for Hezbollah.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, however, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" Sunday that the United States believes "all elements in Lebanon have an opportunity through the elections to participate in the process that will result in a democratically elected government."

CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler contributed to this report