Wails of grief and protest mark funeral for Hariri

Wails of grief and protest mark funeral for Hariri

Globe and Mail, Canada
Feb 17 2005

An estimated crowd of 200,000 pays its respects to former PM while
calling for withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon

Thursday, February 17, 2005 – Page A24

BEIRUT — The funeral of assassinated former Lebanese prime minister
Rafik Hariri turned into an angry protest yesterday as wails of
mourning mixed with demands that Damascus withdraw the 14,000 Syrian
soldiers stationed in Lebanon.

Many of the estimated 200,000 mourners who flooded central Beirut
hailed Mr. Hariri as a martyr who was killed because he wanted true
independence for Lebanon, which has had Syrian troops on its soil
since 1976.

Although a previously unknown Islamist group has claimed
responsibility for Monday’s massive bomb, which killed Mr. Hariri and
16 others, most funeral-goers were firmly convinced that the
assassination was ordered in Damascus.

“Hariri was killed because he represented something that was not part
of their plans: namely, prosperity and independence for Lebanon,”
said Asma Andraos, a 33-year-old public-relations consultant.

She was carrying a banner that read “It’s obvious, no?”, quoting the
response of Mr. Hariri’s son to reporters when asked who was behind
his father’s murder. “We know it means Syria,” she said.

Other mourners shouted “Syria is the enemy of God!” and waved signs
that read “Syria out!” as they made their way through the streets.

The Lebanese opposition has directly accused Syria of playing a role
in the assassination. Although Mr. Hariri had never publicly called
for a withdrawal, he had become increasingly linked with groups
opposed to Syrian involvement in the country.

Last fall, Mr. Hariri resigned in protest after Damascus pushed the
Lebanese parliament to amend the country’s constitution in order to
postpone the election and allow pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to
stay on beyond the end of his term.

After losing that power struggle, Mr. Hariri was believed to have
used his close ties to Paris and Washington to promote last fall’s
passage of United Nations Resolution 1559, which calls for all Syrian
troops to leave the country.

Yesterday’s emotional outpouring came amid fears of renewed
instability in a country that is still recovering from the 15 years
of a civil war that ended in 1990. Mourners marched under the
watchful eye of the Lebanese army, which was placed on high alert. A
pair of black helicopters circled overhead throughout the day as
gunboats patrolled the capital’s Mediterranean harbour.

Soldiers in jeeps were stationed along the funeral route, which began
at Mr. Hariri’s mansion in West Beirut and ended at the giant but
incomplete Mohammed al-Amin mosque in the city centre. Mr. Hariri was
buried on the grounds of the mosque, which the billionaire
businessman had funded with millions of dollars of his own money.

Outside, mourners piled white roses and posters of Mr. Hariri on
Martyr’s Square, at the foot of a monument to Lebanese patriots who
were hanged early in the 20th century for demanding independence from
the Ottoman Empire.

The funeral briefly turned chaotic when the procession reached the
mosque and Mr. Hariri’s casket was lifted out of its ambulance
hearse. Several people were injured as the crowd surged forward,
hoping to touch the flag-draped coffin.

Mr. Hariri’s eldest son, Bahaaedine, had to ask the crush of mourners
to back off. “We don’t want his last minutes to be like this,” he

Despite worries of violence, the funeral was a peaceful testament to
the type of Lebanon that Mr. Hariri spent much of his life trying to

Christian priests and clerics from the Druze and Shia Muslim sects
all joined in the mourning for the 60-year-old moderate Sunni.
Whenever the minarets of the city’s mosques fell silent, the pealing
bells of nearby Maronite Christian and Armenian Orthodox churches
could be heard.

In a sight that would be remarkable in almost any part of the Middle
East except Beirut, old men in traditional dishdasha marched in
procession beside young women in tight blue jeans.

“He was a great leader. He did a lot of great things in this country.
Without him, we would have stayed in the Stone Age,” said Ramzi
Yassin, a 17-year-old clutching a handmade sign praising Mr. Hariri
as a “martyr-general.”

Foreign dignitaries who visited Beirut to pay their respects were
nearly as effusive in their praise of a man who used his extensive
international contacts to attract aid and investment to Lebanon.
French President Jacques Chirac, a close friend, told reporters that
the slaying of Mr. Hariri represented “a horrible crime” and a
“horrible loss for Lebanon, democracy and freedom.”

Although the Hariri family rejected the government’s offer of a state
funeral, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa was in attendance,
along with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal and Saudi
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Canada was represented by
Ambassador Michel Duval.

Conspicuous by their absence at the funeral were members of Lebanon’s
pro-Syrian government, whom the family told would not be welcome.

The United States sent assistant secretary of state William Burns,
who later met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud to press
Washington’s demand for an “immediate and complete” Syrian
withdrawal. The White House has already recalled its ambassador to

Buthaina Shaaban, a member of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s
government, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the U.S.
position was “baffling,” claiming that whoever was behind the killing
had targeted Syria as much as Lebanon.

“To point to Syria in a terrorist act that aims at destabilizing
Syria and Lebanon is exactly like blaming the United States in 9/11,”
she argued.