Protesters demand Syrian withdrawal

Tens of thousands of protesters have marched from the Beirut seafront to Martyr's Square, chanting anti-Syria slogans and calling for the Lebanese government it supports to be deposed.

    Al-Hariri's killing last week has brought warring parties together

    Rightwing and leftwing groups, Muslims and Christians, factions that fought each other during Lebanon's civil war - marched  on Monday to mark a week since former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri was killed in a massive bomb blast.

    They have been united by what they consider a common objective - to rid Lebanon of Syrian domination.

    "Syria Get Out", and "We don't want a republic under the Syrian shoe", were some of the slogans raised by the demonstrators. 

    Last straw

    Tawfiq al-Dibs, who was waving the flag of the Progressive Socialist Party, which is headed by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, said he was making his voice heard to end Syria's domination over Lebanon.

    Asked why the protests would work now, he answered: "Hariri's assassination was the last straw. The Lebanese cannot take it anymore."

    Deputy Basam al-Saba (C) and
    other leaders at Monday's rally

    A young man, who identified himself as a Christian Maronite belonging to the Free Patriotic Movement headed by exiled Christian leader Michel Aun, said he was happy to see Muslims finally convinced that Syria should leave the country.

    "The unity among Christians and Muslims over this issue is a decisive element that will lead to the liberation of the country," he said.

    At 12.55pm, the crowds observed a minute of silence, marking at the exact time al-Hariri was killed on 14 February. This was followed by a rendition of the Lebanese national anthem.

    Crescent and cross

    Marking the unity between Muslims and Christians, a female demonstrator held aloft a small banner with a painting of a crescent and a cross beside each other and words that read: "Together, in spite of them!"
    A visibly exhausted, partly paralysed man tried to catch up with the marching crowds with the support of his walker.

    Lebanese soldiers in riot gear did
    not try to block the protesters

    "I couldn't tolerate myself sitting home doing nothing while a demonstration is being held calling for holding the killers of al-Hariri accountable," Riyad Fakhuri, a Sunni from Beirut, said.

    Fakhuri expressed his joy at being able to walk alongside people from different sects and from different political affiliations.

    Walid Fliti, a leftist who came all the way from Baalabak in eastern Lebanon, could not help noticing the irony of marching in the same rally with rightwing party activists and former opponents.

    "The stage of animosity between us is over. I have no problem to walk side by side with any Lebanese who calls for Lebanon's independence," he said.

    An American leftwing activist, Sonya Knox, held aloft a banner saying: "For International Investigation Under UN Supervision."

    Knox, who currently resides in Lebanon, said, "I support any people's struggle for independence and the right to self-determination."

    She said she had never expected to stage a demonstration with rightwing protesters. "I'm very uncomfortable with much of the politics of those around me. But we are here for a greater cause," she added.

    Obstacle to progress

    Also taking part in the demonstration was Nabih Awada, a resistance fighter who spent 10 years in Israeli jails for his militant activities against Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon.
    He told he could not deny that Syria supported Lebanon's resistance to oust Israel from the south of the country. But now, he said Syria had "no right to become an obstacle to the progress and the freedom of the country".

    Syria maintains it had no role in
    al-Hariri's killing on 14 February

    As he proceeded towards Martyr's Square, which honours the Syrian-Lebanese nationalists who were executed at the spot in 1916 under Ottoman rule, Awada said: "We have to differentiate between Syria's support for the resistance and its hegemony over Lebanon."
    Security forces and the Lebanese army lined up the 1km route from the site of the bomb blast that killed al-Hariri all the way to his grave, located near Martyr's Square in downtown Beirut.

    In the past, security forces were prompt in squashing anti-Syrian protests, resulting in clashes and arrests. On this occasion, however, security personnel in full anti-riot gear quietly escorted the demonstration.

    Hidden smile

    "We want no army in Lebanon other than the Lebanese army," the protesters chanted as they passed by Lebanese soldiers.

    The demand of the protesters
    was clear and unambiguous

    "We salute the Lebanese Army," a demonstrator wielding a megaphone shouted as he belted out slogans for the crowds to repeat.

    "We are not demonstrating against the Lebanese Army. We are demonstrating to preserve the dignity of Lebanon and its army."

    A few soldiers grinned in agreement, one hiding his smile with the palm of his hand.
    As the crowds approached the Muhammad al-Amin mosque where al-Hariri is buried, a protester shouted through the megaphone repeatedly: "Who is the murderer?" And the crowds roared back every time: "Syria."

    Some protesters placed Lebanese flags on the Statue of Martyrs.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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