Lebanese mourn assassinated ex-PM Hariri a decade later



BEIRUT, LEBANON- Lebanese paid their respects Saturday to former prime minister Rafiq Hariri a decade after his assassination in a massive and shocking suicide bombing that destabilised the fragile country.
In downtown Beirut, political leaders and ordinary citizens gathered to lay flowers at Hariri's grave, and several television stations carried rolling coverage of the day's events.



Hariri's son Saad, himself a former premier, returned from self-imposed exile for the occasion and addressed a memorial service.
He called for Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah, implicated by a UN-backed tribunal in his father's killing, to withdraw its fighters from neighbouring Syria.
Speaking before a crowd of thousands on Beirut's waterfront, Hariri called Hezbollah's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "madness".
"We say (to Hezbollah): leave Syria. Stop spreading Syria's fires in our country," he said.
The conflict has spilled over into Lebanon, with bombings and border incursions by jihadist groups, as well as the influx of 1.1 million refugees.
"Assad has managed to break Syria over the head of the Syrian people," Hariri added.
His father was killed by a car bomb blast on February 14, 2005 in Beirut's seaside Ain al-Mreisse district.
The attack, which also killed 22 other people, shook Lebanon and the wider region.
It prompted massive anger at Syria, which had long been the power-broker in the country, with many people accusing Damascus of involvement.
The resulting outrage prompted Syria to pull its forces out of Lebanon, ending a 30-year presence that began during the 1975-1990 civil war.
However, the initial optimism that surrounded Syria's departure dwindled in the face of renewed bomb attacks against anti-Syrian politicians, public figures and those investigating Hariri's assassination.
In a first for Lebanon, where political killings have tended to go uninvestigated or punished, an international tribunal is prosecuting five Hezbollah members accused of Hariri's murder.
The group has refused to hand the suspects over to the authorities, however.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a Saturday statement that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon showed that "impunity will not be tolerated".
Lebanon's existing political and sectarian fault lines have been exacerbated by the conflict that began in Syria in March 2011.
Hezbollah and its allies back Assad's government, while many Lebanese Sunnis support the uprising.
The disagreement has caused a stalemate in parliament, which has failed repeatedly to elect a new president since Michel Sleiman's mandate expired last May.
In a statement marking Saturday's anniversary, US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Lebanon's fragile situation, and urged that a new president be elected.
"It's fair to say that the status quo is not the Lebanon that prime minister Hariri envisioned," he said.
"Unless and until a president is chosen, the erosion of Lebanon's political institutions will only become more pronounced."
He said Washington, which was a key supporter of Hariri, would back Lebanon's government and support the tribunal prosecuting his murder.
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Sunday, February 15th 2015
AFP
           


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