Tens of thousands of supporters of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority gathered in the rain on Beirut's Martyrs' Square Thursday to commemorate the third anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Later Thursday, supporters of the Shia group Hezbollah, aligned with the pro-Syrian minority, to pay their respects to Imad Moughnieh, who was killed in a car bombing in Syria on Tuesday.
The atmosphere at the Hariri commemoration was calm Thursday morning, despite tight security aimed at heading off any clashes between the pro- and anti-Syrian blocs, who have faced off repeatedly in recent weeks.
"All is calm for the time being," reports FRANCE 24's Lynn Tehini. "The protesters have converged on Martyrs' Square on foot, in the rain, waving blue flags - the colour of Hariri's party - as well as the Lebanese flag."
The square has been under strict security lockdown since Wednesday night. The country has been without a president since Nov. 24, and the factions' inability to agree on a candidate has raised fears of the kind of conflict that divided the country for years during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990).
In the three years since Hariri's death, several Lebanese politicians, journalists and security officials have been killed in bomb attacks. The Lebanese majority has accused Syria of being behind the attacks.
A peaceful demonstration
Thursday's commemoration was organised by the anti-Syrian “March 14” alliance, which accuses Damascus of being responsible for the bombing that killed Hariri.
Telecommunications Minister Merwan Hamade, a member of the anti-Syrian majority, told FRANCE 24 he did not anticipate any trouble at the event. “I don’t think there will be any violence because the March 14 coalition has organised a peaceful demonstration and many families and children will be attending.” He added: “We want to show the determination of the Lebanese people to get the truth behind Hariri’s assassination and at the same time to elect a new president to get our national institutions moving again.”
Scarlette Hadad, a Lebanese journalist working for French-language “L’Orient le Jour”, asked why the Lebanese people must live in perpetual mourning and under the threat of fresh violence. She told FRANCE 24 the demonstration will be “important” but “sad” and she hopes it will foster solidarity among Lebanese citizens. “The majority does not want to see a return to civil war because there are certain limits that shouldn’t be broken,” she said.