BEIRUT – A massive crowd of flag-waving Lebanese filled Martyrs' Square on Saturday to remember slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — an occasion his supporters used to rally the public before parliamentary elections in which they are struggling to stay in power.
Tens of thousands of Lebanese attend a rally near the grave of slain leader Rafik Hariri at Martyrs' Square in Beirut. PHOTO: Dalati and Nohra news service
The pro-Western parties, backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia and led by Hariri's son, face a tough election battle in June against rivals supported by the Hizbullah party and its Syrian and Iranian allies.
The election showdown reflects Lebanon's enduring political and sectarian divides, which worsened after Hariri's death in a truck bombing on Feb. 14, 2005. No one has been brought to justice for his assassination.
The division culminated in street clashes between Hizbullah gunmen and mainly Sunni pro-government groups last May that brought the country to the edge of another civil war.
The result was a stronger role in the government for Hizbullah and its allies. Now Hariri's allies want to regain some of the lost political momentum.
The rally in Martyrs' Square, where Hariri is buried, was peaceful. Hariri's Future TV and his political movement estimated the crowds in the hundreds of thousands. But stone-throwing and insults erupted between Hariri supporters leaving the rally and Hizbullah backers in several Muslim neighborhoods of Beirut. Troops intervened to restore order.