02/13/2007, 00.00
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Deadly bombs mark eve of Hariri assassination anniversary

by Youssef Hourany
At least 3 dead and 20 wounded in two bomb explosions that tore two buses apart. Lebanon’s majority parties see the attacks as attempt to thwart tomorrow’s commemoration of the second anniversary of the former premier’s murder.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Bombs exploded on two buses near Bikfaya, a Christian area north-east of Beirut, killing 3 people and wounding about 20, a day before the ceremony to commemorate the second anniversary of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri's assassination.

The bombs were placed on buses that left the Christian village of Btighrin, a stronghold of the influential Greek-Orthodox family of Defence Minister Michel Murr.

The explosions occurred after 8:30 am as the buses carrying 50 or so passengers travelled through another Christian village, Ain Alak, near Bikfaya, from where former President Amin Gemayel hails. His son Pierre was assassinated last November 21.

The area is a stronghold of the Lebanese Phalange, a pro-government party.

Security forces threw up check points around the area fearing further attacks.

Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabah called an emergency meeting of the High Security Council, but refused to speculate as to whom might behind the incidents, referring the issue to the investigations launched by government prosecutor, judge Jeab Fahed.

Lebanese President Émile Lahoud said the attacks “strike at the attempts of reconciliation and mediation” between majority and opposition.

“Lebanon’s enemies want to turn our country into a new Iraq,” said Nabil Ncoula Hachem, an MP from Metn (Mount Lebanon) and a member of General Michel Aoun’s opposition party.

Samir Franjieh and Fares Suaid, two Christian MPs who are members of the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, said the bombs were designed to disrupt tomorrow’s great demonstration in Beirut that the pro-government ‘March 14’ coalition is organising to commemorate the anniversary of Hariri’s murder.

Tomorrow’s demonstration, which is seen as favourable to the current government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, echoes the one that forced Syria to pull out its troops of occupation, and thus further widens the gap between majority parties and the opposition.

At the end of a meeting, ‘March 14’ leaders released to the press a statement announcing the majority’s intention of holding the demonstration downtown Beirut, near the tomb of the ex-PM who was assassinated two years ago.

“We want to show our popular support and the opposition refuses to withdraw its people who have been carrying out a sit-in for the past 65 days near Hariri’s tomb,” said Saad Hariri, the late premier’s son.

The majority coalition wants to bring a million people into the streets. It has declared tomorrow a day of national mourning with offices, schools and universities closed.

By contrast, Lebanon’s opposition parties want to downplay the anniversary. Abbas Hachem, an MP elected on General Aoun’s ticket, said that “a commemoration of former Prime Minister Hariri can take place without shutting down the country whose foreign debt [now] stands at over US$ 45 billion.” He added that “when Hariri came to power in 1992 the foreign debt was less three billion dollars.”

Maronite Patriarch Card Nassrallah Sfeir said he was pessimistic about how things will evolve, and renewed his appeal to Maronites “to overcome their internal divisions before it is too late and the country lost.”

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