Lebanese Mark Assassination Anniversary

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Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese pack central Beirut on Tuesday, exactly one year after a bomb attack killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. A U.N. investigation suggests that Syrian officials played a role in the assassination, something Syria denies.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Several hundred thousand people rallied in Beirut today one year after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was killed in a massive truck bombing. A U.N. investigation has suggested that Syria played a role in the killing. Damascus denies that charge. And a year after Hariri's death, the pro-reform coalition that helped force Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon is trying to regain its footing. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Beirut.

PETER KENYON (Foreign Correspondent, Cairo): The crowd was not as big as last year's March 14th rally when a million people demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and demanded that Hariri's killers be brought to justice. In a matter of weeks the Syrian troops were gone in a stunning reversal after 29 years of military presence here.

But a year later, a UN investigation into the killing is continuing with a new chief prosecutor and no clear answers yet. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clinging to power as is Lebanon's pro-Damascus President Emile Lahoud. A series of explosions and assassinations has left a number of anti-Syrian journalists and politicians in Lebanon dead or wounded. Not far from Hariri's grave is the Al-Nahar Newspaper building. The former publisher Gibran Tueni became the latest bombing victim last December.

Standing in the newspaper's lobby, pro-reform Cabinet Minister Nayla Moawad says she's proud to see so many people turn out to remember Hariri and all those assassinated over the years. A list that includes her husband Former Lebanese President Rene Moawad, who was killed in 1989. Moawad adds, however that much remains to be done.

NAYLA MOAWAD (Cabinet Minister and Widow of Former Lebanese President Rene Moawad): But it's also a day to prove that you are the people and citizens who deserve their independence, their sovereignty, their freedom. And we want to get rid, definitely, of the remaining of the Syrian regime.

KENYON: She says that includes President Lahoud and Syrian Intelligence Forces, that she said, continue to maintain a strong presence in Lebanon. The road ahead is uncertain. The Shiite Hezbollah Militia, while negotiating with some reform factions, refuses to disarm as called for by a United Nations resolution. And cracks have begun to appear in the reform movement as individual politicians jockey for power.

Cabinet Minister Moawad says what's needed now are two things: a new election law and a national dialogue on the sensitive issue such as Hezbollah's weapons. Standing off to the side of the massive crowd today, a middle-age woman who gave her name as Zahia(ph), said she came to pay respects to Rafik al-Hariri who came from her town of Sidan(ph), and was in fact her cousin.

She said it's nice that the Syrian soldiers are gone but she hopes she won't still be waiting for real independence when the next anniversary rolls around.

Ms. ZAHIA (Rafik al-Hariri Cousin): (Speaking Through Translator) I really hope that we don't have to wait for a year for what I would like to happen. I mean, I hope that we can achieve the freedom and we can achieve the independence that we want. But most of all, I hope that we can get rid of our president.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.

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