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French Version

Fallen son laid to rest as Lebanese vent their anger (Daily Star)

An estimated quarter of a million Lebanese people, many chanting anti-Syria slogans, took to the streets of Beirut in an outpouring of anger and grief for the funeral of assassinated premier Rafik Hariri.

Observers said the funeral was the largest in Lebanese history as mourners from all confessions, ages and social backgrounds joined the procession.

But following requests from the Hariri family, government officials stayed away from the funeral. The only government official to attend was long-time Speaker Nabih Berri.

The family, which indirectly blames the government for the assassination, had rejected an offer of a state funeral and instead asked the Lebanese people to join them in their grief.

A crowd of over 100,000 accompanied Hariri's coffin along the four kilometer stretch from the family home of Qoreitem through Verdun, Basta, Beshara al-Khoury and down to the mosque where tens of thousands of mourners were waiting.

The march erupted in shouts of "Allahu Akbar" and chants against Syria and its allies in Lebanon demanding revenge on Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad.

"They feared you, they killed you," read a banner near Hariri's house. One excited mourner shouted loudly: "I want to kill someone today; a Syrian."

Others declared allegiance to Hariri's son Bahaeddine, urging him to grab responsibility and follow his father into politics.

Other banners read pro-sovereignty slogans or bluntly accused Syria and the Lebanese government of the murder.

As Hariri's coffin made its way toward the entrance to the mosque, the bells from the nearby Armenian Patriarchate were tolling accompanied by the Islamic call to prayers in a further show of national unity.

Once Hariri's coffin arrived inside the mosque, frantic mourners tore the shrouds covering the bodies of Hariri and the other bomb-blast victims being buried alongside him, exposing the charred remains of the dead.

A number of mourners fainted as Hariri's eldest son, and possible political successor, Bahaeddine, shouted for calm as the family were jostled in the melee.

The Sunni Grand Mufti, Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, was also forced to delay the commencement of prayers after being stuck outside the mosque for more than 30 minutes.

One of the mourners, Raja Halawi, said: "Today is important as Muslims, Christians and Druze have come together. They are all here to condemn the killing. They are all here for Lebanon and to tell Syria it cannot play with our fates any more."

A handful of mourners were suspended on a crane in mid-air near the mosque, while many had climbed on nearby terraces buildings and barriers.

The burial took place amid a wave of international condemnation of Syria's presence here.

President Jacques Chirac of France, a personal friend of Hariri, was among the international figures who came to pay his condolences to the late politician and billionaire's family, but he pointedly snubbed the Lebanese government.

Chirac, who shortened a Cabinet meeting in Paris to attend, said: "I came to pay tribute to a man who was my friend and also a man of democracy, freedom and peace."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who was also among the mourners, said the assassination "must give renewed impetus to achieving a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon" and called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese soil.

Since Hariri's brutal assassination on Monday, high-ranking members of Lebanon's pro-Syrian government have kept a low profile, with most of the opposition, spearheaded by Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt, accusing the government and Syria of being behind the murder.

The pro-Syrian Lebanese president did not attend the funeral or visit Qoreitem.

But Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam, in Lebanon since Tuesday, came to Qoreitem for the second day in a row. He stayed there for five minutes but did not comment.

Hariri was the first to be buried in the grounds of the enormous Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the heart of downtown Beirut, the area that Hariri almost singlehandedly reconstructed from the ashes of the civil war.

Hariri had funded the mosque, which is still under construction, as part of his plan to restore the downtown heart of Beirut, a development plan regarded as the most gigantic reconstruction project in the region.

Condolences will continue in Qoreitem on Thursday and Friday, and in Sidon on Saturday and Sunday.

Hariri spearheaded the Lebanese capital's reconstruction after the civil war and was also awarded the prestigious French Legion of Honor by Chirac on Wednesday.

Among mourners Lebanon's opposition parties were represented and included Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Qornet Shehwan Christian opposition group and the Independent Leftist Movements.

Beirut 18-02-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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