Record protest takes place in Beirut

NEARLY one million people gathered for an opposition rally in Beirut last Monday, a month after the death of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The demonstration outshone recent pro-Damascus rallies and is thought to be the biggest in Lebanese history.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  March 20, 2005

NEARLY one million people gathered for an opposition rally in Beirut last Monday, a month after the death of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The demonstration outshone recent pro-Damascus rallies and is thought to be the biggest in Lebanese history. The rally, perhaps the biggest anti-government demonstration ever staged in the Arab world, was the opposition’s bid to regain momentum after the reinstatement of the pro-Syrian prime minister, Omar Karami, and a huge rally last week by the Shiite group Hezbollah. Beirut city official Mounib Nassereddine said more than 800,000 people had turned out for the protest, which would make it the biggest demonstration held in the country’s history. Many offices and schools closed early for the demonstration as protesters packed Martyrs' Square, near where Hariri died in a car bomb, and the crowd spilled over into nearby streets. The sea of people fell silent at 12:55, the exact time Hariri was killed four weeks ago. In a show of national unity, Sunnis, Druze and Christians packed the square as brass bands played and balloons soared skyward. A stream of buses and cars brought protesters from the eastern Bekaa Valley, while others arrived from Junieh, in the north, by boat. Druze opposition MP Marwan Hamadeh told the huge crowd: “You want the truth [about Hariri’s killing]? It’s clear ... the world and Lebanon know them [the killers] well, know them one by one, name by name, rank by rank.” Protesters demonstrated against the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon despite the fact that Syria pulled back some of its troops in Lebanon to the border a fortnight ago. The opposition also rebuffed calls to join a new government until its demands are met. Many in the crowd also demanded the removal of president Emile Lahoud. Damascus also promised the United Nations (UN) a full timetable for the withdrawal of its 14,000 troops and intelligence agents. Meanwhile, military intelligence officers left two offices in the north, in the town of Amyoun in the Koura region and Deir Ammar on the coast. But Hariri’s sister Bahia drew jeers from the crowd when she told them: “We will stand by Syria until its land is liberated and it regains its sovereignty on the [Israeli] occupied Golan Heights.” An investigation is continuing into Hariri’s death and the opposition has demanded the resignation of senior security officials. It is thought that the opposition will try to keep the momentum going until parliamentary elections in May.

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