|'Unity' theme to mark 30th anniversary of dawn of Lebanese civil war
|Five-day festival will transform Downtown Beirut in April
Downtown Beirut will be transformed into a festival ground on April 13 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the start of the devastating civil war, a date that has been consecrated for "freedom, sovereignty and independence."
Lebanon, mired in political crisis and hit by a series of bomb attacks, is to mark the anniversary with a cultural and sporting festival under the slogan of "unity."
Speaking at the Press Federation, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, the sister of slain former premier Rafik Hariri, announced the sports, culture and artistic events that will take place in Beirut April 9-13 to revive the ailing city center.
In an emotional speech in which she addressed her late brother, Hariri said: "We promise you that this year we will transform Lebanon into a legend, as you had wanted it to be."
Hariri was the main architect of the post-war reconstruction of Lebanon, with pride of place among his achievements being the rebirth of Downtown Beirut. Since his death, the area has been reminiscent of a ghost town and businesses have struggled to make profits.
Since Hariri's murder in a seafront area a few hundred meters away, Martyrs' Square has turned into a pilgrimage site to the tomb where he was buried and the scene of anti-Syrian protests.
The opposition has blamed the blast on the Lebanese authorities and their backers in Damascus, a charge denied by both governments.
His sister, Hariri said: "We call on Lebanese of all religions and all regions to take part in these activities."
"For three days and three nights, the Lebanese will be out on the streets, in public, to tell those who wanted to kill hope by assassinating Rafik Hariri that their plot is doomed to fail," his sister said.
More than 30 leading figures from the business world, the law, trade unions and civil society are taking part in the organization of the event.
The program, announced by Beiteddine Festival Committee president and wife of leading opposition member Walid Jumblatt, Noura Jumblatt, includes photo and painting exhibits, concerts, theater, a marathon, horse-riding and swimming competitions and children's activities. It will be free and accessible to all, Jumblatt said.
On the night of April 12, organizers will lay the cornerstone of a statue of Rafik Hariri, to be built near the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
The earth for an olive tree, symbolizing peace, is to be brought from different regions of Lebanon.
A series of concerts are being staged by the organizers of the country's Baalbek and Beiteddine arts festivals.
But according to Maya de Freije, a member of the organizing committee: "The schedule is not final yet, we are still working on the final touches and it will be out next week."
According to Hariri, the national flagship carrier Middle East Airlines will offer up to 50 percent discounts during the month of April for people coming to Lebanon in an attempt to encourage maximum attendance among tourists and Lebanese expatriates. MEA confirmed the 50 percent discount for flights coming to Beirut from all destinations. But airline officials said it only applies to people staying for 14 days.
Hariri said she was hoping the move would help revive the ailing economy, which received a blow after the massive blast that killed Hariri on February 14. Cafes and nightclubs in the Downtown area, once brimming with tourists, are now left nearly empty because of Hariri's murder and the series of bomb attacks that have targeted the country since the killing.
Hariri said: "We want to show them that our will for life cannot be defeated. We want our streets and our squares to be filled with joy and people and not left abandoned for chaos."
The events will also include the five-kilometer "Fun Run," or "Unity Run" organized by the Beirut Marathon Association on April 10, a bicycle rally, the planting of an olive tree near Hariri's grave and a closing concert by the Lebanese singer Magida Roumi.
In another effort to rehabilitate Lebanon, outgoing industry minister and Alwaleed bin Talal Foundation president Layla Solh announced the foundation will fully rehabilitate the industrial area of Sad al-Boushrieh that was heavily damaged in a night bombing last Saturday.
The Daily Star