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French Version


Athletes, students 'Run for Peace' in Beirut

Thousands take part in event to 'bring peace and tourists again to the country'

Thousands of people ran through Beirut on Sunday morning as part of the HSBC Vivicitta Run for Peace, amid a positive atmosphere still clinging to the city after the presidential election and the Qatari-mediated end to the nation's 18-month political crisis.

Smiling faces peppered a sea of white t-shirts and red baseball caps as the crowd waited to run for peace. Family members waved from behind a uniformed marching band as their children mingled among international athletes and enthusiastic volunteers. Clowns towered over the crowd on stilts, clapping along with the music that blared from loudspeakers. A small child waved a large Lebanese flag.

A line of athletes stood hand-in-hand at the front of the crowd, already sweating under the morning sun. At the sound of the horn they were off, with hundreds of children swarming behind them.

When they returned to the finish line, young women with colorful plastic pom-poms cheered as they passed. First came the athletes, shooting by as if in the Olympics, one of them jumping to touch the finish line banner. The rest of the crowd arrived a few minutes later, led by children who clearly hoped to one day wear the jerseys of the athletes they so closely followed. The spectators included a man with his daughter sitting on his shoulders and a smiling soldier leaning against the barricades.

Roughly 7,500 people took part in two events, a 5-kilometer run and a 21-kilometer race.

The winner of the 21-kilometer race, which involved an international selection of star athletes, was Ethiopian runner Alemayehu Shumye Tafere.

"We have here all religions and races," said Jinan Mantash, an 18-year-old participant in the 5-kilometer race who won her age bracket. "Because children and youth are the new generations, now that they have united in this event they will learn when they grow up that a united Lebanon is a must. It feels great to work for Lebanon."

"The students are from many schools in Lebanon. They are running from all Lebanon, and we can run hand in hand," said volunteer Patrick Rizkallah, who helped coordinate schools and universities to participate in the event.

According to Rizkallah, about 7,000 students were recruited.

Edgar Abou Rizk from the Teachers' Syndicate of Lebanon said he expected the event to reflect that stability had returned to Lebanon following recent events. "Outside Lebanon when they are going to see through the news that all the Lebanese are gathered together, this will bring peace and tourists again to the country and we hope that this race will be the pioneer program for this summer to bring a peaceful situation to our country," he said.

For this year's race the Beirut Marathon Association focused on bringing children from across the country to the event. Beirut Marathon Association director May al-Khalil said children participating were also asked to draw pictures and write about their visions of peace.

Khalil said that the Beirut Marathon Association (BMA) has signed an agreement with the Unione Italiana Sport Per tutti to continue doing the 21-kilometer as well as the 5-kilometer race. With this in mind, she said she hoped that the event would become more popular in the coming years.

"I believe this year was the first attempt for the Beirut Marathon Association and our partners to work together, but I have the feeling that next year the number you see today is going to be - if not twice - [then] triple next year," she said.

"Everybody is supporting us - the government and the opposition," said Ziad Shaaban, a volunteer at the event. Shaaban has volunteered for the BMA for five years, since the first race.

Shaaban said that this year's run for peace event benefited from better organization than the year before.

"We learned from our mistakes," he added. There were some "incidents" the previous year, when the location of key points in the run led to some confusion among those taking part.

Volunteer Tony Hajj said he joined the event to serve a good cause and gain organizational experience to add to his resume. He said the size of the run was smaller than the year before, in part due to the fact that income and tourism had suffered from the conflict earlier this month.

Howard Miller, a tourist from London, said he had decided to participate in the marathon after arriving in Beirut 10 days ago. Miller, who is traveling across the Middle East, learned of the event from posters in the city.

"I think it's a fascinating time to be here," he said. "It's amazing to see people kind of relaxing, because I get the sense there was a lot of energy built up in two weeks when they just weren't doing anything."

"It's a breath of fresh air," said Amine Daouk, president of the humanitarian non-profit organization Makassed. "It's what Lebanese, especially young people want: They want peace; they are all here as one."

Beirut 02-06-2008
Redaction
The Daily Star



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