300,000 Lebanese rally for Muslim-Christian unity
As church bells tolled and a muezzin called Muslims to prayer, a crowd of 300,000 Lebanese gathered for a huge rally in Beirut that opened with a renewed call for Christian-Muslim unity.
AsiaNews reports that the peaceful rally began with welcoming words from Ghassan Tueni who invited the crowd to repeat the oath pronounced by Tueni's son Gibran - also assassinated in December 2005 - after Hariri's murder: "Never again war between Christians and Muslims."
Waving flags, handkerchiefs and balloons in the blue colour of Lebanon's ruling coalition, the crowd shouted slogans against Syria and its Lebanese allies.
At exactly 12:55 pm - the time of Hariri's assassination - the crowd fell silent except for a muezzin making the Islamic call to prayer and the tolling of church bells.
Lebanese army units were deployed in the area, including armed vehicles, and a two-metre barbed wire barrier separated Martyrs Square, where Hariri's tomb is located and where the rally took place, from Riad al-Solh Square where about a hundred opposition supporters have been on a sit-in since 1 December.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt did not mince words and accused Syria of being behind the spate of political murders that have occurred in Lebanon in recent years.
"This year," he said, "the tribunal will come and with it retribution," Jumblatt said in a reference to the international tribunal agreed to by the UN and the Lebanese government.
He was referring to the international tribunal agreed to by the United Nations and the Lebanese government. The tribunal is expected to look into political crimes perpetrated in the country since 2004 and which most likely triggered the country's current political crisis in November of last year.
Saad al-Hariri, ruling coalition parliamentary leader and son of the slain former premier, attacked the main opposition party, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah but also called for a dialogue with opposition leaders.
"We are ready for every courageous decision for the sake of Lebanon and for the sake of a solution in Lebanon, but the international tribunal is the only passage for any solution," he said.
Meanwhile, Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, has condemned a 13 February bus bomb attack in a strongly Christian area outside Beirut that killed three and wounded 30 people.
Pope Benedict also renewed his appeal for an end to violence in Lebanon imploring the Lebanese people to "unanimously reject violence" and use the latest tragedy as an impetus to peaceful resolution of their conflicts.
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15 Feb 2007