Millions Champion Lebanese Independence and Democracy as Top Leader Accuses West of Abandoning Lebanon

A moment of glory, and the struggle goes on.

Lebanon's Independence and Democracy

The Conflict over the New Middle East


Million People Show Up for Hariri Memorial in Beirut

14 Feb 08

More than one million people showed up in downtown Beirut on Thursday to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on the third anniversary of his assassination as just a few kilometers away Hizbullah prepared to bury top commander Imad Mughniyeh who was killed by a car bomb in Syria.

Amid fears of clashes between rival pro- and anti-Syrian factions, army troops and security forces were deployed in force in the capital. The factions have faced off repeatedly in recent weeks.

A sea of people gathered under pouring rain and poor visibility in Martyrs' Square in central Beirut, where Hariri is buried, waving Lebanese flags and photos of the slain leader as well as other politicians and figures killed in the past three years.

Rally organizers said about one million pro-government supporters gathered in and around Martyrs Square, while another 500,000 crowded the streets.

As the rally got underway, members of Hariri's family and the ruling coalition inaugurated St. George Square on the Beirut seafront where Hariri was killed by a massive car bomb on Feb. 14, 2005.

They also unveiled a bronze statue, a sculpture in the form of a flame and an obelisk bearing inscriptions about his accomplishments and sayings.

Politicians meanwhile gave fiery speeches demanding an end to the country's presidential deadlock and accusing Syria of meddling in Lebanese politics.

Saad Hariri saluted the crowd before delivering his speech as flag-waving partisans shouted allegiance.

"Today you have come again to say we want a president. And we say to you we will have a president," Hariri told the crowd from behind bullet-proof glass.

"The enemies of Lebanon are still trying to assassinate the Lebanese people just as the Israeli enemy tried to assassinate the Lebanese people during the 2006 July war," he added.

Hizbullah claimed victory after that 34-day war in which neither of Israel's stated aims -- to recover two captured soldiers and halt rocket attacks on northern Israel -- was achieved.

"We want a President for the republic. They tried to assassinate Beirut, the international tribunal and the presidency by installing void," Hariri said.

"Together we will continue to insist that Gen. (Michel) Suleiman is elected President in order to open a new phase of dialogue and consensus and cooperate for Lebanon's sake," he added. "This is the goal of the citizens gathered here in Martyrs Square as well as in the southern suburbs for the funeral service of resistance commander (Imad Mughniyeh)."

Druze leader Walid Jumblat, a sharp Hizbullah critic, said the government will not succumb to opposition efforts to deliver Lebanon "to the Iranian-Syrian black evil world."

He accused Syria and the "double-crossing regime" of its President Bashar al-Assad of killing Mughniyeh.

Jumblat vowed that the blood of the pro-government March 14 Forces and that of the revolutionaries "will nail down all unbelievers anywhere they were – be they in their palaces, squares or caves."

Ex-President Amin Gemayel also pledged to "liberate downtown Beirut and return the Lebanese capital to its people."

A huge crowd cheered Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as he began his speech.

"We used to say the tribunal is coming. We now say the court came," Geagea said in reference to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in Hariri's murder.

"No to your tents and threats. We won't allow the presidential seat to be your captive," he said. "You people tell them that we will resist until victory."

Sheikh Ali al-Amin, the Shiite Mufti of the southern city of Tyre said: "I say to those encouraging an escalation that Lebanon will not be transformed into another Iraq."

MP Atef Majdalani, in turn, said in his speech: "We will remain committed to electing Gen. Michel Suleiman president," stressing that March 14 "wants justice and equality, while they (opposition) want anarchy to achieve unrest and civil war."

Secretary General of al-Jamaa al-Islamiyah Ali Sheikh Ammar vowed to "live on despite the bloodshed."

"Hariri's murder anniversary should be an opportunity to restore a climate for constructive dialogue and national unity," he told the crowd.

MP Elias Atallah, addressing Free Patriotic Movement leaderGen. Michel Aoun, said: "We tell Rabiyeh resident 'Forget about the Document of Understanding (which was singed with Hizbullah ) on the expense of the country.'"

To Hizbullah, Atallah said: "There is no use for the rockets or intimidation."

National Liberation Party Secretary General Elias Abu Assi also addressed the opposition, telling it: "Come back to us when you regain your senses. We in March 14 will not rest until justice is achieved and independence is guaranteed."

Cabinet Minister Mohammed Safadi reminded the opposition that the March 14 coalition has made concessions.

"Do they want us to give up our backing to consensus candidate Gen. Suleiman?" asked Safadi. "We want a government whose war or peace decision is in its hands."

Nassib Lahoud, a former ambassador to the U.S. and a member of the ruling majority, said his side would not budge from its demands for the election of a president without outside interference, followed by the formation of a national unity government.

Cabinet Minister Jean Oghassabian vowed that March 14 will elect Suleiman President, adding that "we will not accept institutional void."

In an indirect address to Hizbullah, Cabinet Minister Michel Pharaon said: "We won't be terrorized. Gen. Suleiman will be elected president and Lebanon will emerge victorious."

MP Bassem al-Sabaa described the opposition tent city in downtown Beirut as an "occupation," saying it "is a crime against Lebanon."

Minister Nayla Mouawad lashed out at Syria, saying: "We were born free and we will die free. We won't allow Lebanon's destiny to be linked to the Syrian regime."

At the exact time of the explosion that killed Hariri, church bells tolled and mosque minarets blared Allah Akbar chants.

Lebanon has been without a president since last November when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term. A subsequent power struggle between the ruling majority anti-Syrian faction and the opposition has left a continuing vacuum.

By early afternoon cars and buses were continuing to flood to Beirut where the Hariri organizers handed out flags and umbrellas to the demonstrators.

"Open our parliament, free our government, elect a president now," read one banner, referring to the ongoing power struggle.

"Enough martyrs. Enough Blood," read another banner. "Yes for Tribunal," another sign said.

The government declared Thursday a holiday to commemorate Hariri's death and schools and universities were ordered shut.


Jumblat Accuses West of Abandoning Lebanon

29 Jan 08

Druze leader Walid Jumblat accused the West of abandoning Lebanon, saying "dictators" should be toppled.

"The two dictators ought to be overthrown," Jumblat said in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro.

Jumblat stressed that Syria and Iran as well as their Lebanese allies "want to create void so they can slowly and steadily impose control over (Lebanon)."

He said that "we might not be able to stop that," vowing, however, not to give up.

Jumblat also pointed the finger at Hizbullah for the series of car bombing attacks that have hit Lebanon recently.

"I accuse Hizbullah directly … when you are capable of possessing rockets with a 300-kilometer range, you own everything," Jumblat told Le Figaro.

He also accused Hizbullah of facilitating the job for the Syrian intelligence service.

"You cannot have the power to devastate and assassinate without having deep-rooted allies in the territory," Jumblat added.

He said Hizbullah "facilitates the work of the Syrian intelligence and desperately defends the Syrian regime as well Iran's expansion policy."

Jumblat said in a separate interview with the Russian news agency, Novosti, that it was "impossible for democratic Lebanon to coexist with Syria's dictatorship."

Jumblat, who is on a visit to Moscow, renewed charges to Syria with responsibility for differences between the majority and opposition over distribution of power in Lebanon's forthcoming cabinet.

Russia "being a superpower that has clear interests in the region has an interest in stability in Lebanon, with which it has deeply-rooted cordial relations," he noted.

Jumblat said electing Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman president would be a "major accomplishment."

The Progressive Socialist Party leader said he would discuss with officials "the help and support" Moscow could provide to settle the presidential election issue.

Electing a president, Jumblat said, is the "base for overcoming internal disputes and regaining national unity."

He explained that there are no calls for changing Syria's regime, but the discussion focuses on the ability by Russia and the West to "convince the Syrian leadership to halt its intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs and focus on its own problems."

He said the opposition performance "indicates that it aims at making partnership impossible. They often use partnership as a slogan to hide their aims."

"They want to change the whole democratic regime of Lebanon," the PSP leader said.

"How can we go into partnership with forces that control areas which are off limits for state security?" Jumblat asked in his weekly article published Tuesday by the PSP mouthpiece, al-Anbaa.

"How can partnership be achieved with a side that has an arsenal of missiles and a side that lacks such weapons? How can partnership be achieved with forces that adopt a culture of death and preach death?"


Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Lebanon

14 February 2008

On the third anniversary of the terrorist attack that took the lives of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-two others, the Secretary-General stands in solidarity with the families of the victims and with the people and Government of Lebanon. He reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to assist Lebanon in establishing the truth and in bringing to justice those who instigated, planned and executed this and other callous political assassinations and terrorist attacks in the country. He continues with determination to prepare for the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, convinced that impunity must not prevail and that the tribunal process cannot be reversed.

This solemn anniversary comes at a perilous moment for Lebanon. The Secretary-General believes there could be no greater homage paid to the memory of Rafik Hariri than for the parties in Lebanon to redouble their efforts to achieve national reconciliation and to ensure the stability, security and prosperity for which Rafik Hariri worked so hard during his lifetime.


Major Lebanon Events since Hariri Assassination


Key events and attacks in Lebanon since former premier Rafik Hariri was assassinated on Valentine's Day three years ago:


- Feb 14: Hariri and 22 others are killed in a car bombing on Beirut's seafront. Anti-Syrian politicians accuse Syria of involvement but Damascus denies.

- Feb 28: The pro-Syrian cabinet of Omar Karami resigns.

- March 8: More than 400,000 demonstrate in support of Syria, responding to calls Hizbullah and Amal.

- March 14: More than a million demonstrate against Syrian influence.

- April 26: The last Syrian soldiers leave Lebanon after three decades of presence.

- May 7: Return of Christian Gen. Michel Aoun after 15 years in exile. A year later he allies himself with Hizbullah.

- May 29-June 19: The anti-Syrian opposition gains an absolute majority in legislative elections.

- July 19: Hariri ally Fouad Saniora forms a government including Hizbullah.

- Aug 30: Four pro-Syrian officers, including the head of the Lebanese presidential guard, arrested as part of Hariri assassination probe.

- Oct 12: Syria says its former intelligence chief in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan, who has been questioned by U.N. investigators, has killed himself.

- Oct 20: An initial U.N. probe into Hariri's assassination implicates Syrian intelligence officials and former pro-Syrian Lebanese authorities.

- Dec 12: Assassination of anti-Syrian MP Gebran Tueni. The Saniora cabinet calls for an international tribunal to try Hariri's assassins.
Shiite ministers quit the government but return three months later.

- Dec 30: Former Syrian deputy premier, Abdel Halim Khaddam, accuses President Bashar al-Assad of having threatened Hariri.


- Jan 23: Belgian Serge Brammertz takes over as head of the U.N. probe into Hariri's assassination.

- July 12-August 14: Israel and Hizbullah go to war after the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah. Nearly 1,400 people are killed.

- Aug 11, U.N. resolution 1701 calls for the end of fighting and provides for the deployment of a strengthened peacekeeping force, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

- Oct 1: Israel withdraws its troops from southern Lebanon as UN force reaches 5,000 soldiers. The Lebanese army deploys at the border for the first time in decades.

- Nov 11: Failure of talks aimed at forming a government of national unity. First of six pro-Syrian ministers resign.

- Nov 21: Anti-Syrian industry minister Pierre Gemayel shot dead.

- Dec 1: Start of an open-ended demonstration by the opposition who set up tents in downtown Beirut near the prime minister's office.


- Jan 23-25, 2007: Seven dead in clashes between pro-government and anti-government supporters.

- May 20: Start of clashes between the army and Islamist group Fatah al-Islam the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon. The army takes the camp in early September. More than 400 are killed, including 168 soldiers.

- June 10: A controversial U.N. resolution setting up an international tribunal for the Hariri killing comes into force.

- June 13: MP Walid Eido among 10 dead in an attack.

- June 24: Six killed in an attack on Spanish U.N. peacekeepers.

- Sept 19: Antoine Ghanem becomes the fourth anti-Syrian MP assassinated since the May 2005 elections.

- Nov 23: The mandate of President Emile Lahoud expires. The post remains vacant, the majority and opposition having failed to elect his successor.

- Dec 12: A car bomb kills Gen. Francois El Hajj and a bodyguard near Beirut. Hajj had been tipped to replace army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman, the frontrunner to become president.


- Jan 16: U.S. President George Bush, visiting the Middle East, calls for an end to "Syrian interference" in Lebanon.

- Jan 25: Four killed, including top anti-terrorism officer Captain Wissam Eid, in a bomb blast targeting a security convoy in a Christian suburb of Beirut.

- Jan 27: Seven die in clashes between army and demonstrators in Beirut.

- Feb 9: Failure of Arab mediation effort. Failure at the 14th attempt to elect a president for Lebanon.

- Feb 13: Hizbullah announces the murder the previous day in Damascus of top commander Imad Mughnieh in a car bombing.

- Feb 14: Hundreds of thousands of government supporters rally in Beirut to mark the third anniversary of Hariri's death as Hizbullah holds a mass funeral ceremony for Mughniyeh.


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