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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 16:30 GMT
Thousands flock to Hariri protest
The crowd converged on Beirut's Martyrs' Square

A mass rally in Beirut to mark the second anniversary of the killing of ex-Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri has passed off mainly peacefully.

There had been fears of clashes between pro-government supporters, who accuse Syria of involvement in the killing, and pro-Syrian opposition activists.

Tension has been high since clashes between the sides erupted last month.

The crisis stems back to November when six pro-Syrian ministers quit over a UN tribunal to try Hariri murder suspects.

'Culture and education'

Tens of thousands of Lebanese converged on Martyrs' Square in Beirut's city centre where Hariri is buried.

Views from Hariri rally in Beirut

They waved flags and banners and cheered loudly when their leaders vowed that they would never submit to what they believed was a campaign of violence orchestrated by Syria.

"We are here to extend our hand to all Lebanese for dialogue and national unity," Hariri's son, Saad, said.

Many of those attending carried Lebanese flags or blue balloons, the colour of the anti-Syrian faction led by Hariri and now by his son.

Others wore red caps commemorating the murdered politician, reading "We really miss you."

One woman attending the rally told the BBC: "We're here because of the martyr prime minister, because we love him and want to follow his path," she said.

"We want culture and education not arms and streets [barricaded with] tyres, for sure. We want to learn and reach our goals and lead a normal life like everyone else."

Bus bombings

The BBC's Jim Muir, at the rally, said that just a stone's throw away Hezbollah and its allies in the Syrian-backed opposition could hear all the commotion but did not react.

[Hezbollah's] interest in Tuesday's [bombings] is to plant fear in the Lebanese people. But we are here to awaken their conscience
Jamila Zehayri,
rally participant

Our correspondent says it seemed people were keen to avoid any kind of confrontation.

Razor-wire fences, tanks and thousands of security forces made sure the two sides stayed apart.

Tension had risen after a double bus bombing on Tuesday that killed three people and injured 18 near Bikfaya, a mainly Christian town in the hills north of Beirut.

The government majority coalition behind Prime Minister Fouad Siniora accused Syria of being behind the bus attacks, holding it "fully responsible for this despicable crime".

His supporters said the blasts were designed to scare people away from Wednesday's rally.

One woman who attended the rally, Jamila Zehayri, said: "[Hezbollah's] interest in Tuesday's incident is to plant fear in the Lebanese people. But we are here to awaken their conscience."

President Emile Lahoud, a staunch ally of Syria, also condemned the bomb attacks, saying they undermined attempts at compromise.

"Every time the Lebanese seem close to an agreement, enemies of Lebanon commit another crime," he said.

The UN tribunal remains a source of major sectarian and political tension.

A UN probe implicated top Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies in the assassination.

Last week the UN signed an accord that would create an international tribunal to try suspects in the killing.

However, that must be ratified in the deeply divided Lebanese parliament.

Syria denied any involvement in the car bomb attack that killed Mr Hariri.

Outrage at the time forced Damascus to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.


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Thousands attend the rally on the streers of Beirut





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