Syria blamed for murder of Lebanese leader
TENS of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets yesterday to mark the funeral of Rafik al-Hariri, the assassinated former prime minister, in a public outpouring of grief that quickly turned to anger at Syria, blamed by opposition leaders for the killing.
Men wept uncontrollably as the procession wound through Beirut streets plastered with posters of the Sunni Muslim billionaire killed in a suspected suicide car bombing on Monday.
The country’s pro-Syrian president stayed away - warned not to come by supporters of Mr Hariri who blame Damascus for his death. In Syria, government officials remained silent as United States and United Nations pressure continued to mount.
An American envoy in Beirut for the funeral said Syria must take Mr Hariri’s death as a cue to end its military presence, maintained since 1976 and stop political meddling.
The dead former leader’s sons and relatives bore his flag-draped coffin from an ambulance into an unfinished mosque Mr Hariri had financed in Beirut’s once war-shattered downtown.
Some mourners fainted amid chaotic scenes as the crowd surged around the coffin before Mr Hariri was laid to rest in the grounds of the mosque a few hundred yards from the seafront. His family spurned government offers of a state funeral and made it clear that top Syrian-backed officials were not welcome.
Jacques Chirac, the French president, and a personal friend of Mr Hariri, arrived in Beirut and went straight to the family mansion to "pay homage to a man who was my friend and also a great democrat, a statesman, a man of peace".
William Burns, the US assistant secretary of state, said Mr Hariri’s death "must give renewed impetus to achieving a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon", adding that this meant the "complete and immediate withdrawal" of all Syrian forces.
Syria has condemned the assassination and denied responsibility. Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to Washington, said he was "appalled" by the political atmosphere and that blame was being placed on Syria for Mr Hariri’s death.
"We think that the atrocious crime that took place in Beirut two days ago ... should not be used for political reasons to score points against Syria," he said.
People in the streets of Damascus voiced particular shock at the strident criticism of Syria’s role from the Lebanese.
"If they feel this way, then I say we should withdraw and let them break each other like falling water melons," said a Syrian student who gave his name as Amjad.
A security source said at least 150,000 people had joined the funeral march, but other witnesses estimated hundreds of thousands had taken to the streets in one of Lebanon’s biggest and most diverse gatherings for decades.
Several European and Arab ministers, along with Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary general, were among foreign dignitaries in Beirut for the burial.
"There must be a speedy investigation," said Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister. "Otherwise matters will take a turn for the worse in the Arab and international spheres."
Sources said Lebanon will ask international experts to help investigate the bombing.
Mosques blared prayers and church bells tolled as the marchers chanted slogans against Syria and its local allies.
"Syria out," shouted some mourners, "Revenge, revenge on Lahoud and Bashar," others yelled, referring to the Syrian-backed Lebanese president Emile Lahoud and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Hariri’s supporters declared allegiance to his businessman son, Bahaa, urging him to take on his father’s political mantle.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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