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French Version

Geagea scoffs at Hizbullah's claims of 'victory'

Tens of thousands attend rally to honor slain Lebanese Forces members

Anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea scoffed Sunday at Hizbullah's claims of victory in the war with Israel and avowals that it wanted a strong state in Lebanon.

"We are the victors, and yet we do not feel it was victory but rather that a real catastrophe befell our country, and that our fate and destiny are at the mercy of the winds," the Lebanese Forces (LF) leader and member of the "March 14" political group told a rally attended by tens of thousands of supporters.

Crowds flocked to the hilltop Maronite cathedral in Harissa north of Beirut, site of a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, for a mass at the rally, which was staged as a memorial for LF "martyrs" who were killed during the 1975-1990 Civil War.

"We are the victors because it was us who were demanding the [Lebanese] Army's deployment [in South Lebanon], backed by UNIFIL [peacekeepers], while they were opposed," said Geagea.

In a reference to Hizbullah, Geagea said: "Some say that they support the formation of a strong, just and capable state while their acts are hampering the creation of such a state."

"They demand a strong state, but how can a strong state be built with a statelet within its midst? How can it be done with arms and ammunition continuing to flow in, when they force the state to follow their own schedule?" asked Geagea.

"We say to them that once we find a solution to the arms, it will be possible to build a strong state," he said, remaining calm throughout his speech.

"Those tears expressed the exact feelings of the people," he said, referring to Nasrallah's criticism of Premier Fouad Siniora, who wept openly while describing destruction during the war.

It was "out of the question to speak of victory," after more than 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon alone, overwhelmingly civilians, and billions of dollars in damage were inflicted on the country, he said.

The annual event, which was held this year for the first time in 11 years in the presence of the LF leader, came two days after Hizbullah held a giant demonstration in Beirut attended by hundreds of thousands to celebrate what it called a victory in the devastating war with Israel.

For the first time in 12 years, Geagea entered Harissa Cathedral accompanied by his wife, Strida, amid the applause of thousands of LF supporters.

"They said the resistance had protected Lebanon from falling into a civil war ... We say that Lebanese leaders and people are the ones who kept Lebanon away from a civil war," Geagea said. "We are the resistance and we will always be. As we were heroes of the military resistance, we will also be heroes of the peaceful political resistance."

Geagea also said that no weapon would stop his party's calls for Hizbullah to disarm.

"They say that there is no army in the world capable of making them drop their weapons ... We say that there is no weapon that can make us accept this fact," he said.

He added that power could not be measured by the arsenal one had but by unity among all Lebanese parties.

The event drew mainly Christian Lebanese from several regions, notably from the North and Beirut. The crowd chanted: "God, Lebanon, and the doctor [Geagea's nickname] only."

Tens of thousands of supporters blocked the roads to the cathedral. MPs and ministers rode in cable cars to get to the hilltop, with reports that Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad hitched a ride on the back of a motorcycle. Justice Minister Charles Rizk was unable to make it due to the heavy traffic on the roads.

With their white LF flags bearing the cedar tree symbol of Lebanon and their shirts stamped with the sharpened cross of the right-wing party, young supporters chanted slogans against both Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his ally, General Michel Aoun.

Among the attendees were: Archbishop Roland Abu Jaoude representing Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, as well as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Michel Pharaon and Future Movement MP Riad Rahal representing Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri, respectively.

Prominent March 14 Forces were also present at the event, including former President Amin Gemayel. But, the main two March 14 Forces leaders, parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt were not present.

During his speech, Geagea praised Hariri and Jumblatt, saying that Lebanon "would not have risen again had the blood of their martyrs not mixed with that of the LF's martyrs."

He also lashed out at Leb-anese officials who have called for a national unity government.

"There is no national unity government without national unity and apart from the Taif Accord," he said.

"They cannot be proud of their relations with Syria because the latter does want in Lebanon a government and national unity," he added.

"Syria does not want to recognize Lebanon. That is why it is refusing to demarcate the border and establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon."

Regarding the presidential post, Geagea said that Lebanon "lacks balance due to the paralysis in the country's top post."

"We will recover this post sooner or later," he added.

After praising the "LF martyrs," the leader addressed the crowd: "Don't let anyone scare you ... They [martyrs] did not die so we can leave our land, and we won't leave it."

Before attending the Mass, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade met with Sfeir for talks on the latest political developments.

"The visit was aimed at conveying Jumblatt's salutations to the prelate and exchanging opinions over the situation in Lebanon," Hamade said after the meeting.

"The prelate's viewpoints are 100 percent compatible with ours," the minister added.

Beirut 25-09-2006
The Daily Star

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