Funeral held for the former Lebanese Prime Minister

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri at the Pentagon on April 25, 2001.

A funeral procession several kilometers long wound its way through the Lebanese capital of Beirut for the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri yesterday. Mr Hariri was assassinated three days ago, on the 14th of February, when explosives equivalent to approximately 300 kg of TNT were detonated as his motorcade drove past the St George Hotel in the Lebanese capital. The hundreds of thousands of mourners in the funeral procession were convinced that the assassination was carried out by the Syrian government and used the opportunity to voice their anger at the Syrians.

The funeral united the many Lebanese factions, with Christians, Druze, and Shia and Sunni Muslims marching side by side in the procession, accompanied by the tolling of church bells.

French President Jacques Chirac, a friend to Mr Hariri, was in Beirut yesterday and praised the work that Mr Hariri had done in his fight for Lebanese democracy and independence. He also offered his condolences to Mr Hariri's family.

The US House of Representatives has paid tribute to the former Lebanese Prime Minister and also called for Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon. Mr Hariri was described as a philanthropist who chose to put the future of Lebanon above political interests and used his own funds to assist the country's economic reconstruction after years of civil war.

Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said demonstrations by Lebanese calling for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon underscore the key issue facing the country, "There is no proof that Syria was directly responsible for this assassination,” he said. “But there is no doubt that Syria has remained in Lebanon far longer either than their mandate, or than in the agreements under the Taif Accords of 1989."

Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat, also took to the floor of the House to denounce the killing. "It was a criminal act, it was a heinous act of terrorism, of those who don't have the courage to work through the political system or differences. I do not know who is to blame, certainly there are enough outside forces in the region that once again are looking to Lebanon to play their ugly, deadly games," he said.

The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus following the bomb attack, and has again demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon.