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Hariri trial a potential blowtorch or 'boost' for Lebanon

Hariri trial a potential blowtorch or 'boost' for Lebanon
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Rafik Hariri is commemorated in numerous Beirut locations. This brings the respect of some passers-by, and the opposite from certain others.

Nine years after his assassination, there may be more revelations to come, and some may endanger the stability of Lebanon.

Hariri was prime minister five times, notably from 2000-2004 when the United Nations demanded that Syria withdraw its military apparatus from Lebanon and called for the Hezbollah Shiite militia to cease activities there.

Hariri’s increasingly bold anti-Syria stance preceded his murder, although he was no longer prime minister when it happened, on 14 February, 2005. More than one tonne of explosives destroyed his motorcade. Twenty other people were also killed.

Many people immediately believed the dark hand of Damascus was behind it.

Lebanon was left reeling. But out of it swiftly grew the Cedar Revolution. This series of public demonstrations called for the Syrian troops to leave, and for a government free of influence by Syrian interests.

One month after Hariri’s death, a giant rally was held on 15 March in Beirut. A million people came.

Less than a month later, the Syrian’s left.

Public pressure with international support had pushed them out, after 30 years there.

For many Lebanese, it had felt like three decades of occupation and manipulation of the nation’s politics.

Yet the Syrian shadow did not disappear. The Shiite-Sunni divide remained. More attacks and assassinations followed. The key targets were anyone outspoken in their criticism of Syria’s President Assad and his faithful allies Hezbollah.

The trial of Hariri’s suspected killers carries a risk that strong tensions could flare up again. Lebanon was already prey to a deep political and institutional crisis when war developed in Syria.

Analyst Rami Khouri with the American University in Beirut speculated about the present trial strengthening Lebanon’s institutions.

Khouri said: “I don’t think the court itself – even if it has a clear verdict – is going to stop other political assassinations, unfortunately, because these have been going on for decades and will continue to go on. So the real issue is: will this court help the Lebanese authorities, the political, judicial and police authorities, to have a stronger capability and a stronger will to actually deal with these issues internally?”

The Hariri trial and the Syrian conflict are both linked to Lebanon’s divisions.

Hezbollah sides with Assad against the rebels, firmly convinced that the US and Israel are conspiring with designs on Syria.

On the other side, Sunni partisans of Hariri’s clan are determined to hold Syria to account for his murder.