Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Anti-Syria protests mark Hariri funeral

ANGER AND MOURNING The streets of the Lebanese capital were yesterday plastered with posters of the assassinated billionaire, while wailing mourners denounced Damascus


Screaming and weeping Lebanese clambered around an ambulance yesterday that slowly moved through packed streets in the capital carrying the body of Rafik Hariri, the charismatic former premier assassinated in a huge bombing, to a mosque for his funeral.

The funeral, policed by a huge security operation, started at Hariri's palatial Koreitem compound in a posh Beirut neighborhood before starting on a 3km-long procession through the capital to his eventual burial place at the towering Mohammed al-Amin mosque, construction of which he funded.

Grieving relatives and close relatives carried Hariri's coffin, draped in a red, white and green Lebanese flag, into the ambulance. His remains had been brought to his home earlier yesterday from the American University Hospital, where his body was first taken following Monday's huge car bombing that killed him and 16 others.

Coffins of at least five of his bodyguards also killed in the huge bomb blast that assassinated the billionaire businessman were also part of the procession.

With sirens wailing, the ambulances carrying the caskets were followed on foot by Hariri's three sons -- Baha, Saadeddine and Ayman -- who led a sea of tens of thousands of mourners waving flags and banners and holding portraits of the billionaire tycoon. Hariri was Lebanon's prime minister for 10 of the 14 years following the end of the bloody 1975-1990 civil war and was credited by many with rebuilding the war-ravaged country.

Breaking with Islamic tradition, women also joined the men in the march behind the casket, a sign of Hariri's great popularity. Hundreds of women wept and waved white handkerchiefs, marching with Sunni Muslim clerics and hundreds of white turban-wearing Druse religious leaders.

Along the procession route, residents pasted hundreds of pictures of Hariri and hung national flags from balconies, from which many Beirut residents showered the procession with rice in a traditional sign of welcome.

Many of the mourners, visibly angry and upset over Hariri's death, chanted shouts of support for the slain former leader and denunciations of Syria, Lebanon's neighbor and powerbroker who many blame for the former premier's killing.

Regional and foreign officials, including the US assistant secretary of state responsible for Middle East affairs, William Burns, arrived in Beirut to join Lebanese at the mosque service, which Hariri's political supporters and family have warned government officials not to attend.

It was unclear if Lebanese officials planned to attend.

As Lebanese paid their last respects to Hariri, international pressure mounted against the country to find his killers.

Many in Lebanon blame Syria for carrying out -- or at least having a hand -- in the bombing. Syria denies the charge and has instead condemned the assassination.

Washington announced it was recalling its ambassador from Syria amid speculation that Damascus -- which the US has long criticized for exerting too much control over Lebanon -- had a hand in Hariri's killing.

The UN Security Council approved a statement urging the Lebanese government "bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this heinous terrorist act."

Lebanon's interior minister suggested a suicide bomber aided by "international parties" may have been behind it.

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