Lebanon marked the 14th anniversary of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated on Valentine’s day in 2005 in a massive and shocking suicide bombing that destabilized the country.
Political and religious leaders headed to downtown Beirut to lay flowers at Hariri’s grave.
A torch sculpture, that is part of a memorial that includes a statue of Hariri, was lit near the St. Georges Hotel where the blast went off at exactly 12:55 pm on February 14, 2005 .
“To Rafik Hariri, his companions and the martyrs of freedom: justice will inevitable come,” Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat tweeted.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea meanwhile tweeted that “justice will come, even if it takes some time.” He also posted a picture of Rafik Hariri and the blast scene.
Former PM Najib Miqati reminded the Lebanese of Hariri’s well-known statement, “No one is bigger than their country.”
“National unity should be our ultimate goal, away from the approach of force, hegemony and intimidation. No one can be fully righteous and there is no right outside real national partnership,” Miqati added.
Former Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said “14 years later, it still pains them that, where we walk in Beirut, you will find one of his achievements.”
“We are all trying, topped by Saad Hariri. We will not grow tired or surrender,” Mashnouq added.
Hariri and 21 others were killed in the assassination and more than 200 people were wounded , stunning a nation long used to violence.
The charismatic Hariri was Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician. He was credited with rebuilding downtown Beirut after the ravages of the 1975-90 civil war.
Five Hezbollah suspects are being tried in absentia by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon based in The Hague.
2019 the year of justice
Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Thursday stressed that he and his political movement will always remain the “guardians” of the 1989 Taef Accord, which ended Lebanon’s civil war, as he emphasized that he will not accept to “hand over” the Syrian refugees to Damascus “as hostages.”
“Today, we gather, 14 years after the assassination crime, and 11 years after the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The dream of Rafik Hariri is still with us after all these years and his reconstruction, development and stability project is still being mentioned by each Lebanese who wants to see the country full of work,” said Hariri in a speech marking the 14th anniversary of the assassination of his father Rafik
“After a few months, the verdict session in the case of the Martyr Premier and his companions will be held. Now we can say that 2019 will be the year of justice that we have been waiting for,” Hariri added.
“We don’t accept to see the verdict as a way to take revenge. The verdict is the road towards justice and the refusal to cover up the truth no matter how harsh it is,” Hariri went on to say.
Hariri said that those who killed his father knew what it means “when a man like him, with his relations, capability and popularity, stands in the face of those who want to confiscate the decision of the country.”
“All intimidation attempts didn’t work. They launched the most violent political and media campaigns against him; they blocked his project and threatened him with imprisonment, expulsion from the country and breaking Beirut on his head but all this didn’t work so they killed him,” the PM Added.
Time for work
Addressing the current situation and the formation of the new government, Hariri said: “Today, we have a big workshop in the government and Parliament.”
Expressing his deep regret that the political parties “spent ten years tying the fate of our country to the fate of the wars in the region,” ( a possible reference to Hezbollah and its backer Iran ) , Hariri stressed that “we paid the price from our political, economic and social stability.”
“Today we are at a crossroads. We either continue to drown in disputes over shares or we decide to start the workshop. Time is not for showing off our strengths or settling scores because people are bored of hearing repeated words,” Hariri warned.
“The time when you can talk with a loud voice and gain popularity is long gone and doesn’t build a state or take the garbage from the streets.
The time of overbidding about honesty and integrity while accusing others day and night doesn’t work anymore especially with the new generation who wants work, job opportunities, procedures and laws that fight the waste of public money and corruption. The youths want a clean country, not mini-states for parties and sects,” Hariri cautioned.
He said that the new government has “a clear program with clear funding and mechanisms based on transparency and reforms.”
“There is no chance for wasting public funds or for the thieves of shares and opportunities. It is an investment program in projects and services in all regions, especially the deprived regions,” Hariri explained.
He added: “Rest assured that the work program has no sectarian or regional identity but Lebanese identity par excellence for all people and regions.”
“The ball is in our court, and the challenge is on everyone. I regard it as a personal challenge to the Presidency, to me, to the government and to Parliament,” Hariri went on to say.
Referring to criticism, the PM said that there is talk that the country is “gathering more debt” and that “the state is offering itself for sale.”
“This is talk that has nothing to do with the economy and the investment program. It aims at nagging and blocking work and comes from the old books of obstruction… Personally, I will not remain silent over any attempt to block the work and obstruct the government program,” Hariri warned.
He added: “We hope for ‘zero’ problems in the cabinet and with all the partners in the country because nothing should prevail over the stability of the country and over ending the farce of electricity cuts, the waste and sewage problems and garbage and corruption.”
And while noting that he is not “seeking to stop the debate on the government’s program and on key issues in the country, because there can’t be a normal and healthy political life without discussion, dialogue, opposition and exchange of ideas,” Hariri said that it is not reasonable “after all the hard work exerted at the CEDRE Conference” to return to the “politics of no solutions or that the cabinet returns to political bickering.”
“President Aoun, Speaker Berri and I have decided to turn the cabinet and Parliament into a work cell,” he added.
Referring to recent controversy over the Taef Accord, Hariri emphasized that he “will not abandon Taef or accept the breach of Taef.”
“We are the guardians of the Taef agreement, today and tomorrow!” he stressed.
As for the thorny issue of Syrian refugees, Hariri said that the interest of the country lies in their return to their country in a “dignified and safe manner.”
“The best thing we can do for the displaced is to work for their return to their country, voluntarily, and I emphasize on the word voluntary. Our openness to the Russian initiative goes in this direction and the international community is required to take additional practical steps to end the tragedy of displacement and alleviate social, service-related and financial burdens from the state in all regions,” he added.
“I believe that the regime in Syria wants to take revenge on the displaced and is imposing conditions on their return,” Hariri noted.
“We cannot accept under any circumstances that our country be turned into a tool for handing over the displaced so they become hostages of the regime,” the premier underlined.
He also emphasized that Lebanon “is not a state affiliated with any axis and is not an arena for the arms race in the region.”
“Lebanon is an independent Arab state. It has a constitution, laws, institutions, and Arab and international commitments. A state that affirmed its commitment to disassociation. Anything other than this is a point of view that does not obligate the state or the Lebanese,” Hariri added.