|Marathon attracts 17,000 people
|Siniora: event 'reinforces my faith in lebanon'
Over 17,000 people from 71 countries ran through the streets of Beirut on Sunday in this year's third International Marathon, some wearing standard sportswear, others disguised in costumes.
The sports event soon turned into a political forum with Premier Fouad Siniora sending an implicit message of support to the Lebanese Resistance by openly calling for the liberation of the Shebaa Farms, a stretch of land occupied by Israel.
Dressed in casual attire and holding an olive tree branch, Siniora said: "We [the Lebanese] will build the country together and regain the Shebaa Farms together." He stressed "Lebanon backs the Arab causes," and said "this event proves the Lebanese are working together for freedom and independence."
"The marathon reinforces my faith in Lebanon and the Lebanese," he added.
Siniora said "the presence of Arab athletes today shows the trust of Arab countries in Lebanon's pioneering experience with democracy, freedom, independence and sovereignty."
Entitled "Let's Start Off Again," the Beirut International Marathon, largely sponsored by BLOM bank, was also a "colorful and fun event," said president of the Beirut Marathon Association May Khalil. It was an occasion to "show to the world the civilized face of Lebanon" after the tragic events that shook the country this year, she added.
The 42 kilometer marathon was won by 26-year-old Francis Kamau of Kenya in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 20 seconds.
Kamau, who took home $10,000 for his win, did not break the record achieved in 2004 by this year's second place, Ethiopia's Eshetu Bekele. In the women's category, Kenya's Jane Omoro, 32, came first place.
As part of the marathon, a 10-kilometer race was also organized in support for May Chidiac, a Lebanese journalist who was severely wounded in a murder attempt a few months ago.
A number of politicians also participated in the race. MP Ghassan Mokheiber said he was running in the race to voice his support for Chidiac. "Running symbolizes freedom ... I am running here for the freedom of thought and press," he said.
Siniora said "all Lebanese were with Chidiac." Siniora also praised the positive role played by the media calling for "a focus on everyday life topics and issues which bring the Lebanese together."
The 10-kilometer race was won by Ashraf Ghannam and Lina Hajj. A wheelchair race and a 5-kilometer mini marathon for children between the ages of 11 and 17 also took place. Overall, $100,000 was distributed among the winners of the various races.
The marathon also provided an occasion for associations and businesses to promote their activities.
A group from Greenpeace ran in costumes embodying nature and animals in order to "promote the preservation of the environment."
From the Mine Action Awareness Center in the South, Dalia Farran, said she was running "to raise awareness about the problem of mines which exists in all parts of Lebanon."
Promoting Lebanese talents all over the world, Fadi Nahass, from Act for Lebanon, one of the sponsors of the marathon, said the event will help "put Lebanon back on the global map and bring people of various religions together."
Joumana Haddad, President of the Benevolent Lebanese Association, who along with 30 members helped organize the marathon, described the event as "amazing."
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star