Hariri funeral turns into mass protest against Syria
Screaming and weeping Lebanese clambered around an ambulance carrying the body of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri as hundreds of thousands of people turned for his funeral Wednesday, two days after a huge bomb killed the prominent politician.
The burial ceremony was held as international pressure on Syria to pull out its troops from Lebanon was mounting.
A huge security operation has been organized for Hariri's funeral service, which started Wednesday morning at his palace in a posh Beirut neighborhood and wind for nearly two miles through the capital to his burial place at the towering Mohammed al-Amin mosque, the construction of which has been funded by the billionaire.
Coffins of at least five of his bodyguards also killed in Monday's huge bomb attack were also part of the procession. The ambulances carrying the caskets were followed on foot by Hariri's three sons - Baha, Saadeddine and Ayman - who led a sea of more than 100,000 mourners waving flags and banners and holding portraits of the slain leader. Druse religious leaders and ordinary Lebanese Shiites and Christians also participated in the mass funeral.
Hariri's political supporters and family have warned government officials not to attend the event. Originally, the government had decided on a state funeral for the "fallen national martyr." But Hariri's bloc in parliament furiously rejected any participation by the pro-Syrian regime in the funeral services on the grounds that "the killer should not be allowed to walk behind the victim's casket."
Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, a close family friend, arrived at the mosque ahead of the funeral service, but did not take part in the procession. He was a frequent visitor of Hariri.
The procession turned into a spontaneous anti-Syrian protest, with visibly enraged mourners shouting insults at Syrian President Bashar Assad and demanding him to "remove your dogs from Beirut."
French President Jacques Chirac attended the funeral of Al-Hariri.
The funeral follows massive street demonstrations in the capital on Tuesday and clashes between dozens of Hariri supporters and Syrian workers in the dead leader's home town of Sidon, southern Lebanon, that left five Syrians with minor injuries.
Washington announced it was recalling its ambassador from Damascus amid speculation that Syria had a hand in Hariri's killing.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council approved a statement calling on the Lebanese government "to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this heinous terrorist act." Lebanon's interior minister suggested a suicide bomber aided by "international parties" may have been behind it.
Asked by reporters the reason for the assassination, Hariri's son, Saadeddine, replied in his first public comment: "It's obvious. Isn't it?" in an apparent reference to Syria.
Lebanese media reports said the death toll from the assassination blast at a seaside tourist spot near Beirut's Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel has risen to 17 dead. It should be noted that the lower part of Hariri's body was shredded but his head, face and shoulders were relatively intact, which helped to establish his identity.
More than 120 persons remained hospitalized from varying injuries they received in the blast.