Huge crowds are likely to turn out for his funeral in southern Beirut, just hours after supporters of the ruling March 14 bloc gathered in the central Martyrs' Square.

Syrian influence

Leaders in the pro-government bloc have urged hundreds of thousands to take part in the al-Hariri rally to show their rejection of alleged Syrian efforts to regain influence in Lebanon.

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Many of those taking part in Thursday's rally carried Lebanese flags and photographs of al-Hariri as well as other politicians and political figures  killed in attacks blamed on Syria.

The former prime minister was assassinated in a car bombing on Beirut's seafront in 2005, sparking mass protests and the withdrawal of Syrian troops after 29 years.

"In 2005 you took to the streets to force them out. In 2008 you must do the same so that they don't come back," read messages on billboards around Beirut.

Syria denies any links to a series of killings across Lebanon in the last three years.

Schools and universities were ordered to shut on Thursday, while most businesses were set to close as the government declared a holiday.

Concerns that the two events will spark unrest has prompted foreign embassies to urge their citizens to observe extreme caution and avoid travel in Beirut.

Staying at home

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin in Beirut said that many Lebanese would welcome the bad weather, hoping that it would keep the turnnout at the rallies low and reduce the chances of violence.

"Many people are staying at home, worried and just hoping that today passes with out any problems," she said.

"The point that March 14 wants to make here is that they still have support and are willing to fight if necessary."

Imad Moghaniyah


The life of an elusive figure

There has been a power vacuum in Lebanon since November, with opposing political factions failing to agree on a new president and the distribution of key cabinet portfolios.

"Open our parliament, free our government, elect a president now," a banner carried by some of the protesters in Martyrs Square said.

Hezbollah has accused Israel of carrying out the killing of Moghaniyah, which Syria, a supporter of Hezbollah, branded a "cowardly and terrorist act".

"The brother commander Hajj Imad Moghaniyah became a martyr at the hands of the Zionist Israelis," Hezbollah said in a statement.

Israeli denial

The Israeli prime minister's office denied allegations that it had played any role in the killing.
 
"Israel rejects the attempts of terror elements to attribute to Israel any involvement in this incident," Ehud Olmert's office said in a statement on Wednesday.

Iran, which backs Hezbollah, also accused Israel of carrying out the attack.
 
Moghaniyah died in a bomb blast in 
Damascus on Tuesday [AFP]
"This measure is the result and another prominent example of organised state terrorism by the Zionist regime [Israel]," Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, told Iran's state news agency Irna.

The US welcomed Moghaniyah's killing, saying that he had been responsible for many deaths.
 
"The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a cold-blooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost," Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman, said.
 
"One way or another he was brought to justice."
 
Also known as Hajj Radhwan, Moghaniyah was widely suspected of being behind a wave of Western hostage-taking in Lebanon in the 1980s, claims denied by Hezbollah.
 
According to the US and the West, he was a "top terrorist" and was involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983.
 
The US also claims he was involved in the killing of hundreds of US marines and French paratroopers in simultaneous truck bomb attacks in October 1983.
 
Israeli news media predicted that Hezbollah would attempt to carry out revenge attacks against Israeli targets after Moghaniyah's death.