Monday, March 14, 2005

Unprecedented Numbers March for Hariri, Against Syria in Beirut

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Thousands of anti-Syrian demonstrators held candles with the flames spelling out the word "truth" in english and arabic in Beirut Martyrs square, Lebanon.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 14 — Hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators chanted ''Freedom, sovereignty, independence'' and unfurled a huge Lebanese flag in Beirut on Monday, the biggest protest yet in the opposition's duel of street rallies with supporters of the Damascus-backed government.

Crowds of men, women and children flooded Martyrs Square, spilling over into nearby streets, while more from across the country packed the roads into Beirut — responding to an opposition call to demonstrate for the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

''We are coming to liberate our country. We are coming to demand the truth,'' said Fatma Trad, a veiled Sunni Muslim woman who traveled from the remote region of Dinniyeh in northern Lebanon to take part.

The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri exactly one month ago sparked the series of protests against Syria, the dominant power in Lebanon.

The throngs fell silent at 12:55 p.m. — the exact time Hariri was killed four weeks ago by a huge bomb in Beirut. The silence was broken only by church bells tolling and the flutter of flags.

Monday's protest easily topped a pro-government rally of hundreds of thousands of people last week by the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah. That show of strength forced the opposition to try to regain its momentum.

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