Thousands of people in Lebanon marked the first anniversary of the death of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri by calling for greater democratisation.
“It’s been a painful year…. democracy is inching forward.....there’s a need for a full process of democratisation,” Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, said in Beirut on Tuesday.
Hariri was killed in a car bombing on 14 February 2005.
“Today was a really strong vote of confidence and gives new energy to the UN investigation into the killing,” Safa added.
Tens of thousands of people from all over the country assembled at Martyrs Square, at the heart of the capital, to commemorate the anniversary.
Waving the Lebanese flag, they called for independence, sovereignty and the removal of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, widely perceived as a close political ally of Damascus.
“In any other country, in a similar situation, the president would have stepped down ages ago,” said demonstrator Nayla Khoury. “But not in Lebanon – the whole world ignores him and wants him to leave, but Lahoud stays.”
An ongoing UN probe has already implicated both Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials in the killing.
On 19 October 2005, a UN investigation team, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, presented a preliminary report to the UN Security Council. According to that report, there was "converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement" in the assassination.
A second report, presented on 11 December, concluded that Syria had burned all intelligence documents relating to Lebanon and attempted to hinder the UN inquiry that had found further evidence of the involvement of the Syrian intelligence services in the assassination of Hariri.
However, the Syrian government continues to deny any involvement in the killing.
"The Hariri assassination is an act condemned by all international and moral norms,” Nezar Meyhoub, head of the Foreign Media Department at the Syrian Ministry of Information, said on Tuesday. “Syria has mobilised for an international investigation and Syria has a great interest in discovering the real perpetrators.”
“Cooperation between Syria and the UN is longstanding and will continue along its current track,” he added.
Damascus has so far refused a request by investigators to interview Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following comments by former Syrian vice president Abdel-Halim Khaddam, currently living in exile in Paris.
Khaddam accused al-Assad of being directly involved in the killing – accusations which Damascus strenuously denies.
The investigation, which was extended by UN Security Council Resolution 1644 in December 2005, is now headed by Serge Brammertz of Belgium.
There have also been calls for a probe into a spate of other political assassinations which followed Hariri’s death.
Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said that the debate over the investigation’s scope was still unresolved.
Stork noted that international involvement in the prosecution and adjudication of the case, which the Lebanese government was advocating, was “extremely important”.
He added that there were questions about “the capacity of the Lebanese justice system to investigate and prosecute these kinds of crimes”.
Syria became de facto ruler of Lebanon after it entered the country in 1976 at the outbreak of civil war.
Syrian troops were forced to withdraw in April 2005, however, after popular protests were staged in Beirut in the wake of the Hariri assassination.
Pressure for Damascus troops to leave Lebanon started to mount when UNSC Resolution 1559 was issued in September 2004. It called for all remaining forces to withdraw.
Troops finally left the country in April 2005 after mass protests by Lebanese who blamed Hariri’s death on Syria.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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