Lebanon Marks Anniversary of Hariri's Death

Huge crowds at Martyr's Square in Beirut mark the anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination. One year ago, a bomb took the life of Hariri and 20 others, and ensuing protests led to the withdrawal of Syria's military from Lebanon.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One year ago, a massive explosion on a Beirut street took the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, along with twenty others. Today, hundreds of thousands turned out on Martyrs Square, in downtown Beirut, to mark the anniversary.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is there.

And Peter, this demonstration is pro-Hariri and anti-Syrian?

PETER KENYON reporting:

Very much so. It's a large anti-Syrian crowd. I would say several hundred thousand, probably more than half a million people jammed into Martyrs Square, not far from the gravesite of Rafik Hariri, killed in a huge truck bomb, of course, a year ago today.

It's been ten months here since the last Syrian soldier left, which was a huge development after 29 years of military presence. But, most Lebanese believe the Syrian Intelligence presence here is still strong, and the President, of course, Emile Lahoud, is a Syrian supporter.

And one of the big demands here is for his ousting. He, of course, intends to remain in office until next year when his term expires.

MONTAGNE: And is this demonstration seen as a serious threat to the Lebanese government, which is again, pro-Syrian?

KENYON: Yes, it's a bit of a split. The President is pro-Syrian, the legislature is now led by a reformist. People here say they're optimistic about continuing what they started, which to them means removing Emile Lahoud and the other so-called Syrian agents in Lebanon. That's what the reformists call them.

But, as far as a real threat to this government, there is no doubt that this surprising coalition of Sunnis, some Shiites, Druze, and Christians, has lost some momentum. There's been spatting and sparring between the factions, the Shiite Hezbollah militia, which has yet to disarm, is still absent from this rally, as it was last year.

There are other disputes going on, and Bashar al-Assad over in Syria is clinging to power as tightly as ever, as best we can tell, and is certainly unlikely to cede full independence to Lebanon without getting something in return.

MONTAGNE: And how is the investigation into the bombing going, one year after Hariri's death?

KENYON: It's hit a bit of a lull. There were two reports from the German Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, and he said there was strong evidence suggesting Syrian involvement. He interviewed some Syrian officials after a long tussle with Damascus.

Now it's been handed over to a Belgian, Serge Brammertz. He is carrying on, but it's not clear when he'll produce any findings. A lot of course will depend on how much cooperation, or obstruction, he receives from Syria.

MONTAGNE: And the prospects for reform in Lebanon? You're standing there at a demonstration--we've seen others. What's going on now?

KENYON: Well, this is the big question. And, people can see the solution, the problem is getting there.

Politicians and analysts say the key will be to revise the old election law. The legislature, as I mentioned, is now led by the reformists, but the President, who's pro-Syrian, has his allies as well. They're having some trouble agreeing on these reforms, the details.

The other thing that's badly needed is a national dialogue on the really tough issues like disarming Hezbollah; which considers itself a resistance movement against Israel. Of course Israel and the United States consider it a terrorist organization.

There's basically a feeling here it's going to take a big international push, from the United States, France, and others, to get anything really done in the coming year. And the Bush Administration, for one, certainly has a lot of other things to deal with at the moment.

MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.

NPR's Peter Kenyon at a demonstration in Beirut on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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