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French Version


Demo plans go ahead despite warnings (Daily Star)

Sfeir and Lahoud call for limiting shows of force

Mobilization for the opposition parties' demonstration Monday continued over the weekend despite calls from President Emile Lahoud and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to limit shows of force.

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Commemorating the passing of one month since the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri, opposition movements have used all ways, including leaflets, statements and gatherings around the country in an attempt to reach large numbers of people and encourage them to participate in what appears to be a counter demonstration.

Last Tuesday, at the call of pro-Syrian resistance group Hizbullah, half a million gathered in Downtown Beirut to show loyalty to Damascus which is blamed by the international community and the local opposition for Hariri's killing.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, the spiritual leader of the Qornet Shehwan opposition movement, said during his Sunday sermon that: "If shows of forces continue in the streets, no one knows where this will lead us to and this is what spiteful people are looking for."

On Saturday, Lahoud had warned that continued protests could lead to disaster in a country once ravaged by civil war.

Lahoud said: "If they want to continue demonstrating, a little firecracker will lead to a catastrophe."

After a visit to Sfeir, opposition member and Metn MP Nassib Lahoud gave reassurance that the manner in which the Lebanese youth were demonstrating would not disappoint the patriarch's calls for calm.

He said: "They are expressing their attachment to Lebanon's sovereignty and independence through modern and peaceful ways."

According to the MP, March 14 would be a historic day for modern Lebanon.

While preparations were under way around the country, three young men from the southern village of Marjayoun were arrested Sunday for inciting people to participate in Monday's demonstration. They were later released.

Despite the warnings, buses chartered by the opposition movements are expected to carry thousands of people from around the country to the capital for Monday's demonstration.

In Bcharre, Maya Matta, a 30-year-old Arab literature teacher will head out at 9 a.m. Monday for what many are predicting will be the country's largest demonstration to date.

Matta said: "We took the general decision to close the school. A huge convoy, with entire families, is expected to arrive in Beirut at 11 a.m. to take part in a procession that will take us to the Martyrs' Square."

Likewise, convoys are preparing to leave from the Bekaa Valley and the South in direction of the capital.

On Saturday, more than 11,200 Lebanese had gathered in Martyrs' Square to form a human Lebanese flag.

Squares of colored cardboard - green, white and red - were distributed to the participants, who were assembled into position to form the nation's symbol.

"This event is our civilized way of expressing our solidarity and attachment to our country," said Tony Moukhaiber, the "voice behind the microphone" cheering on the crowd with zesty slogans while patriotic songs played in the background.

The flag took place in front of the Al-Amin mosque in central Beirut, facing Hariri's grave.

Thousands of men and women from all across the country began to gather at the square at noon to be part of the event.

Oumayma Loutfi said: "I departed from Baalbek this morning. I'm here with my three children, husband and mother-in-law."

Many opposition MPs also participated in the event.

"You are Lebanon's pride," shouted Zghorta MP Nayla Mouawad, while Beirut MP Ghinwa Jalloul congratulated the crowd for their patriotism and organization.

Jalloul said: "This flag shows how Lebanese people are faithful to Rafik Hariri's memory and how they won't rest until they find out the truth about who killed him."

At 3 p.m. sharp, the participants raised their squares high in the air forming a giant Lebanese flag for the cameras filming the formation from atop the Al-Amin Mosque, with the national anthem blaring out all the while. "This is the biggest flag in the smallest country," Moukhaiber screamed into his microphone.

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Beirut 14-03-2005
Jessy Chahine
The Daily Star



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