02/16/2005, 00.00
LEBANON - SYRIA
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A freedom-crushing regime behind Hariri's assassination, Lebanese Bishops say

Former PM Hariri, who was killed in a terrorist attack, was laid to rest today in a private ceremony after the family refused a state funeral.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "Only where a totalitarian regime rules such crimes can happen". Harsh words coming from the Maronite Bishops of Lebanon, who met in a special synod following the Monday assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. 

Today, thousands of Lebanese and foreigners paid their last respects before Hariri's coffin. Delegations from Arab countries, from Europe and from around the world were present at the burial ceremony that took place before noon as Islamic tradition demands.

The country's Christian communities were represented by their top leaders who called Hariri's death "a great loss not only for the Muslim community but also for the whole of Lebanon".

Maronite Bishops were called by Patriarch Sfeir to a special synod in Bkerke. In their statement—'Message of brotherhood and coexistence'—the Bishop called for the "respect of the right of citizens to complete liberty" and expressed their sorrow for the flare-up of violence in a country considered by all a mirror of freedom.

The Bishops were saddened by the terrible death of a man like Rafik Hariri. They remembered his action in favour of students and the sick. More than 30,000 students benefited from his financial aid.

"Only where a totalitarian regime rules such crimes can happen," the Bishops said. "Such an action is intended to silence those who insist that Lebanon recover its freedom and sovereignty and demand an end to the foreign tutelage which violates Lebanon's historical mission".

The Bishops concluded their statement by urging prudence, caution and respect for the values that the murdered leader defended.

Today, the whole of Lebanon mourned the passing of Rafik Hariri. The government was silent though.

Government leaders were noticeable for their almost total absence as requested by Mr Hariri's family which refused a state funeral.

Lebanon's President Émile Lahoud is convening a meeting—an impromptu national conference—with leaders from every political movement and religious community, to examine the situation in the wake of Mr Hariri's death. (JH)

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