02/14/2009, 00.00
LEBANON
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Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese gather to commemorate Hariri assassination

The commemoration comes two weeks before the beginning of trials against the alleged assassins. Saad Hariri expresses his thanks "in the name of my father," and issues an appeal in view of the elections in June, which he calls "the opportunity for a free decision."

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) - This morning, hundreds of thousands of people filled Martyr's Square in downtown Beirut, to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the killing of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister killed along with 22 other people on February 14, 2005.

The demonstration comes a few days before the beginning of work by the international tribunal - the first hearing is scheduled for March 1 - convened to try the organizers and agents of the killing. It is also supposed to identify the authors of a series of attacks on political and media figures, which has characterized the recent history of the country. So far, seven people have been arrested, suspected of having an active role in Hariri's death. These include four generals of the army and members of the secret service, including the former Lebanese security chiefs. The Syrian government has been accused of ordering the killing, but has always rejected any responsibility.

Speaking at today's demonstration was Saad Hariri, the son and political heir of the assassinated prime minister. He has accused the Syrian government of his father's killing from the beginning, and demanded the country's independence from the influence of Damascus. In his speech, Saad celebrated the elections on June 7 "as an opportunity for a free decision" on the country's future, and expressed his hope that the "language of national dialogue" may outweigh "all other discussions," and called for "patience and acceptance of responsibility" for the good of the country. Finally, Saad thanked all those present "in my father's name," recalling that their witness is preparing the way "for the trial against his assassins."

Today is seen also as a test in view of the elections in June of 2009, which will pit the coalition led by Hezbollah - supported by Syria and Iran - against the Sunni front supported by Western governments. In recent days, Hezbollah has accused the parliamentary majority of exploiting the commemoration of Hariri's killing in view of the election. This week, Christian leader Michel Aoun also pointed out the exploitation of the celebrations on the part of the majority.

On the eve of the commemorations, Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora published an open letter in Lebanese newspapers entitled "The martyr Rafiq Hariri: the power of presence in the memory of absence." The prime minister wanted to pay homage to his predecessor, who in his political activity was guided "by the general sense of his country's interests, a spirit of initiative, and profound conviction." Siniora stressed that "the values for which Hariri fought will continue to inspire the Lebanese and Arabs."

Lebanese information minister Tarek Mitri recalled Hariri's clarity on the matter of "Lebanon's independence" and his fight to build a "modern and unified state." In recent days, various religious and political figures of the country have gathered in prayer in Martyr's Square. Grand Mufti Mohammad Rachid Kabbani led a delegation of Sunni Arabs, and, in front of Hariri's tomb, celebrated the memory of the "architect" who "played a leading role in the rebuilding of Lebanon and the peace process." He also called upon the people to turn out for today's commemorations. Palestinian ambassador Abbas Zaki visited Hariri's tomb in the name of President Abu Mazen: "Rafiq Hariri was a man of state," the diplomat said, "and his support for the Palestinian cause makes his memory immortal." He issued an appeal "for clarity" on his assassination, and urged the citizens to "honor the patriotic and human values for which he worked."

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