Tens of thousands of Lebanese headed to Martyrs square in downtown Beirut on Sunday to participate in the rally that marks the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri.
March 14 General Secretariat Coordinator Fares Soueid was quoted by National News Agency as saying that” participation in this year’s February 14 commemoration of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri exceeds all expectations.”
“Five years ago, you came down to this very square to demand justice and freedom … and we are not turning back,” Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated PM , told the cheering crowd.
He told the crowd : “You created March 14 and you are the real leadership of March 14.”
Hariri added : “We will use our own brains and freedom to build our future to keep Lebanon a message to the region and the world.”
The PM also said :” Five years have passed, and we are still continuing our path of defending Lebanon, Arabism, democracy, freedom, sovereignty, and independence”
Lebanese Forces’ leader Samir Geagea told the cheering crowd: This is the real Lebanese resistance you are speaking of every hour. A Lebanese resistance because its emblem is Lebanon First; a national resistance because it is based on the interests of the Lebanese.
Geagea challenged the opposition to strengthen the army and the state : “The leaders of the other camp are invited to take a courageous patriotic decision through agreeing to hand over their military capabilities to the Lebanese State and the decisions of war and peace to the Cabinet.
Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told the cheering crowd: “You’ve said no to murderers and no to terror. You’ve achieved unity, the unity of Lebanon and its independence, and God willing: You will achieve its sovereignty and transition to statehood.”
Lebanon’s former president and Phalange party leader Amin Gemayel started hs speech by paying a tribute to the slain PM , pledging loyalty to his martyrdom and persistence to continue the path of struggle. He told the crowds :”They thought that eliminating Rafik Hariri will go like eliminating those before him, but they hadn’t taken into consideration your uprising and your crowd’s chants: Yes to Lebanon and to freedom.”
Gemayel added: “We will keep seeking sovereignty and working to accomplish it because it is not only a motto. The entire 10452 square kilometers should be under Lebanese sovereignty, and only the State should take war and peace decisions.”
Addressing concerns about Syria he said: “We want Syria to be convinced that Lebanon is an independent entity and a sovereign, free state with a unique system in this region. We want Syria to deal with us on this basis.”
MP Ahmad Fatfat a key member of the Future bloc said: “The Cedar Revolution is an unyielding popular momentum which no one will be able to stop regardless of political personal or individual stances.”
Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a massive car bombing on February 14, 2005, that also killed 22 other people, alliance that became the majority in Lebanon.
The alliance was named March 14 after a day of massive anti-Syrian protests dubbed the “Cedar Revolution.”
Combined with international pressure, the protests in the weeks after the killing led to the pullout of Syrian troops in April 2005 following a 29-year military presence.
Saad Hariri, whose March 14 alliance has won two parliamentary elections now leads a unity government which includes the Syrian-backed March 8 opposition.
But Hariri’s visit to Damascus in December and the softening of his stance against Syria, whom he had openly accused of his father’s murder, have been viewed as signs that the March 14 movement was losing steam.
In a recent interview, however, Hariri said that “only death” could separate him from his allies.
Referring to his visit to Syria during his address today , he said” it is part of inter-Arab reconciliation” efforts launched by Saudi King Abdullah who preceded him to the Syrian capital.
“My visit to Syria was part of that,” Hariri said. “I am keen on launching a new phase of ties between Lebanon and Syria as two sovereign, independent countries.”
Hariri’s alliance was dealt a major blow when Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, once the most outspoken critic of Syria, defected in 2009 to move closer to the rival Hezbollah-led camp backed by Damascus and Tehran.
Some supporters of Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party were at the rally waving the PSP flags on Sunday.
“We came here although our party did not announce its participation,” said Bilal Abi Rafeh from the eastern area of Rashaya. “Walid Jumblatt has his opinion, and we respect that. But we have ours too,” he told AFP.
Jumblatt , whose father was assassinated by the Syrians accompanied the Lebanese prime minister to the grave of the slain PM and then left without making any speech
Some demonstrators chanted anti-Jumblatt slogans, but most stuck to traditional pro-Hariri lines, carrying Lebanese flags and banners which read, “For those we have lost.”
“We are here for Rafiq Hariri and all the other Lebanese who were assassinated,” said Souraya Saleh, a mother of two from Naameh, south of the capital.
“Hariri was our father, the father of all the Lebanese. We owe this city to him,” she .”
A Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up by the Security Council in 2007 to try suspects in the Hariri murder, as well as the killings of several other prominent anti-Syrian figures in a chain of subsequent assassinations, but there are no suspects in custody. The 4 Lebanese generals who were detained as suspects in 2005 were released from jail last April . Syria was accused of being behind his murder but Syria denied any involvement . Last year the German der Spiegel magazine pointed fingers at Hezbollah for being behind this murder , but PM Saad Hariri said last week that only the tribunal has the authority to find the truth about his father’s murder and bring the criminals to justice .