AFP - Hundreds of thousands of people crowded central Beirut on Saturday to mark the fourth anniversary of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri's assassination in a rally seen as a political litmus test ahead of legislative elections.
Waving Lebanese and party flags as well as photos of the slain leader, men, women and children gathered under sunny skies in Martyr's Square where members of the parliamentary majority were to address them.
Long lines of cars and buses crammed with supporters of the majority alliance headed by Hariri's son and political heir, Saad Hariri, could be seen along roads leading to the capital.
"This is a day for all martyrs," said Joseph Saleh, 19, who traveled to Beirut from the northern town of Batroun. "We are all here to consolidate the presence of the majority alliance.
"We will be the winners of the elections and in the end the truth will prevail."
Security was tight in and around the capital with army troops deployed heavily to avoid violence.
The rally comes as final preparations are underway in The Hague for the launch of the international tribunal set up to bring Hariri's killers to justice.
It also comes as the country prepares for legislative elections in June that will pit Western-backed political parties against a Hezbollah-led alliance backed by Syria and Iran.
Turnout for Saturday's rally is seen by many observers as an indicator of voters' mood ahead of the polls on June 7.
"Their ability to rally people will be carried over at the ballot box," said Osama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, referring to the parliamentary majority.
Hariri died in a massive car bombing on February 14, 2005 that also killed 22 others. The assassination was widely blamed on then Lebanese power-broker Syria, which has denied any involvement.
The attack on the Beirut seafront was one of the worst acts of political violence to rock Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war, and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence.
The UN tribunal to try Hariri's alleged killers is due to open its doors on March 1, housed in the former headquarters of the Dutch intelligence service on the outskirts of The Hague.
The tribunal will also try those presumed responsible for a series of attacks on other Lebanese political and media figures.
Seven suspects have been arrested in connection with Hariri's assassination. Among them are four generals, including the former head of Lebanese state security.
The UN probe has also implicated senior officials from Syria but Damascus has strongly denied any connection with Hariri's death and accuses Washington of using the tribunal as a political weapon.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday reaffirmed the world body's commitment to efforts to uncover the truth in Hariri's murder.
"This sad anniversary comes two weeks before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon begins to function on March 1," his press office said in a statement, referring to the anniversary of the killing.
"The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to the Special Tribunal's efforts to uncover the truth, bring those responsible for this horrific crime to justice and end impunity in Lebanon."