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French Version

Sea of anti-Syrian demonstrators floods streets of Downtown Beirut

Up to one million anti Syrian protesters chanting "truth, freedom, national unity" marched into Downtown Beirut in Lebanon's biggest rally since the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri a month ago.

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Flag waving demonstrators from across Lebanon filled Beirut's Martyrs' Square, next to Hariri's grave, to hear opposition leaders demand the sacking of Lebanon's top security chiefs, a total Syrian pullout, and an independent investigation into Hariri's murder.

Unlike many of the recent anti-Syrian protests, Sunni Muslims from Hariri's hometown, Saida in the South, Tripoli and Akkar in the North, and Bekaa from East Lebanon, joined the demonstration.

Scores of Sunni clerics also attended, distinctive in their white-and-red turbans.

The show of opposition strength also included a small contingent of Shiites from Beirut's Southern suburbs. They joined Druze and Christians in taking to the streets heeding the call of Al-Mustaqbal Movement of Hariri's Sunni supporters.

The latest massive demonstration of people power, which organizers said a million people had joined, comes less than a week after a Lebanese resistance group rallied half a million of its supporters to thank Syria for its role in Lebanon. It is clear that event had galvanised many people to attend yesterday's demonstration.

But addressing the massive crowd, Sidon MP Bahiya Hariri, Hariri's sister who has been mentioned as a possible prime ministerial candidate, pointedly praised Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for "their act of heroism in leading the resistance that liberated the country."

Addressing the two Shiite leaders, Hariri said: "Let us merge the two struggles into one, the resistance to occupiers and the construction struggle to build Lebanon."

Her speech was welcomed by Hizbullah politburo member, Sheikh Abdel Majid Ammar.

He said: "We highly appreciate Hariri's balanced speech and good will in extending her hand to cooperate with other partners in this country."

The huge crowd of protesters arrived in Beirut in trucks, buses and cars, blocking the capital's eastern and northern entrances as they headed for the city centre near the sea front.

A number of demonstrators even arrived by boat in a bid to beat the heavy traffic.

The demonstration included a two-minute silence for Hariri, followed by a fiery speech from Marwan Hamade, the opposition MP who narrowly escaped an attempt on his life last year.

In response to chants of "we want the truth, who killed Hariri?" from the crowd, Hamade said: "You want the truth, It's clear. The world and Lebanon know the killers well, know them one by one, name by name, rank by rank."

The huge Beirut protest could be the last of a series of rallies used by each side of Lebanon's political divide to show their strength.

Fears are increasing within government that the continuation of street protests, though peaceful so far, could spill into violence amid rifts over Syria's role since Hariri's assassination.

Speaking at the weekend President Emile Lahoud raised the possibility of banning all future demonstrations.

But the last time the government tried to enforce a ban on demonstrations, protestors defied it and began a 24 hour demonstration that led to the resignation of the government.

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Beirut 15-03-2005
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star

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