Half a million Lebanese have gathered in central Beirut to mark the first anniversary of the killing of their former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. The scenes were reminiscent of the massive public gatherings that followed the assassination, and eventually led to Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon. The son of the assassinated leader Saad al-Hariri addressed the crowd:
“By being present today,” he said, “you will help foil the conspiracy against against Rafik al-Hariri, against the freedom, independence and dignity of Lebanon.” Druze leader Walid Jumblatt – a major opposition figure – was also there. He denounced Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as the “tyrant of Damascus” and called on pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to resign.
A minute’s silence was held at the exact time of the explosions which killed Hariri and 22 others. Thousands of soldiers and police were deployed across the capital. Schools, banks and businesses were shut for the occasion.