Latest News

Angry mourners call for revenge at slain Lebanese leader's funeral

BEIRUT, Lebanon—Grief turned into rage against Syria at a raucous funeral Wednesday for former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed two days earlier in a massive bombing that many believe was the work of Syria or its agents.

Shouts of "Syria, out!" and calls for revenge drowned out religious chants as tens of thousands of mourners packed city streets, a rare display against the country that holds Lebanon in a military and political stranglehold.

Mourners worried that their dreams of peace, unity and economic recovery were being buried with the self-made billionaire, who'd presided over Lebanon's renaissance after a bloody, 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

"It took years to grow a Hariri," said Walid Zekaa, a 32-year-old doctor who stood near the towering, unfinished mosque where the funeral was. "Now the opportunists will compete for power, and we'll fall behind again."

Hariri, 60, served three terms as prime minister but had become a key opposition leader in recent months and threatened to weaken Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, in general elections scheduled for May. He and three other ministers had quit Lahoud's Cabinet last fall to protest a constitutional amendment that allowed the president to extend his term three years.

Organizers of Hariri's funeral told Lahoud to stay away—and he did. French President Jacques Chirac and William Burns, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs, were among those who attended.

Hariri was killed Monday by a massive bomb that ripped apart his motorcade while he was en route to his West Beirut mansion after meeting with journalists. At least 13 other people died and 120 were wounded.

There was no official estimate of the size of the funeral crowd, but it was without doubt the largest here since Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in 1997. Unofficial estimates ran above 200,000.

Bodyguards and three of Hariri's sons carried his coffin out of his mansion and into a waiting ambulance thronged by wailing supporters. Five other ambulances joined the 2-mile procession, each containing the casket of a Hariri bodyguard who was killed in the bombing.

Christians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and Druze marched together in the procession, which ended at the Mohammed al Amin Mosque, which Hariri, a Sunni, had had built in a central Beirut square.

Church bells pealed, mingling with booming calls to Islamic prayers and the drumbeat of a military band.

Emotions raged as Hariri's coffin was lowered into the ground later near a memorial honoring the dead of Lebanon's civil war. His eldest son, Baha, grabbed a megaphone to appeal for calm.

"We don't want his last moments to be like this," he pleaded with the crowd.

Lebanese government officials offered no comment or update on the investigation into the bombing. Many here think there'll never be an official determination of responsibility, given that no such cases have been solved in three decades.

But international pressure to find Hariri's killers mounted on Lebanon's government, including from the United States, which recalled its ambassador from Syria on Tuesday in a sign of displeasure over the assassination.

Chirac called Hariri's death "a huge loss for Lebanon and the world."

"Light must be shed on this indescribable and abominable act," he said.

Burns repeated U.S. demands that Syria butt out of Lebanese affairs.

"Mr. Hariri's death should give—in fact it must give—renewed impetus to achieving a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon," he said after meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammod.

Many in Lebanon accuse Syria of being involved in Hariri's killing, which Syrian officials deny.

The only Syrian dignitary at the funeral was Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, a close friend of Hariri. He attended only the service, and stayed away from the procession.

———

(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Moaveni reported from Beirut, Nelson from Jerusalem.)

———

(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): LEBANON

Need to map

Related stories from McClatchy DC

  Comments