Lebanon News

Eerie silence falls on Beirut in mourning of Hariri's death

Seen from Lebanon

BEIRUT: Beirut awoke to an eerie calm Tuesday morning, a day after former Premier Rafik Hariri was killed by a car bomb on the seafront corniche.

Banks, shops and restaurants were closed and traffic was kept to a minimum as the Lebanese Army was deployed on the streets to maintain a sense of order.

As muezzins recited verses of the Koran for Hariri's death, their voices ringing out over the city, the country went into three days of mourning.

The few people wandering the streets seemed stunned as a palpable sense of deep shock took hold of the nation.

At midday in the normally buzzing pedestrian area of cafes and restaurants at Place de L'Etoile, downtown Beirut, all was a devastating quiet. In this area, rebuilt from the ashes by Hariri's real estate company Solidere, and the business tycoon's most visible legacy, chairs were stacked and a few people were sitting silently outside a cafe where Hariri was minutes before he embarked on his final journey.

Just streets away at the site of the attack hundreds of Beirutis, some Hariri supporters, others come to gawk, gathered at police lines to gaze at the wreckage of cars and rubble surrounding the black crater where the bomb went off.

All around the sound of glass being smashed and removed could be heard, a relentless crunching and ringing, at the nearby hotels The Phoenicia Intercontinental, Palm Beach, Monroe and Vendome, which were all closed for business.

Disbelief was everywhere. Some onlookers were angry, others in a state of shock.

One man, Michel Louma, blamed Syria saying: "I know who was behind this. It's 100 percent the Syrians. I am here for the third time today to make sure I do not forget the scene of the crime and those behind it.

"And I am a Christian," he added insisting in this deeply sectarian country that it is not just Sunnis who supported the billionaire businessman. Hariri was the leading political figurehead for the Sunnis in Lebanon.

Back across town as the bright yellow sunshine shone down on Martyr's Square, preparations were being made for the funeral taking place today.

Adjacent to the huge Mohammed al-Amin Sunni mosque bulldozers and steamrollers were flattening ground and Syrian workers laying tarmac and a vast tent being erected to accommodate the expected crowds.

The famous Martyr's Statue in the square, the symbol of Lebanese independence from the French in 1943, was pasted with posters of Hariri.

But all was not completely peaceful as vocal demonstrations took place in Hamra and in the southern city of Sidon. Here anger reigned as hundreds of youths, children and women brandishing posters of Hariri and chanting his name, and that of his eldest son, Bahaaddin Hariri. Many were calling for him to stand in his father's place in the parliamentary elections expected in May.

Horns blared and buses and vans posted with Hariri's image drove through the streets. Some supporters tried to get near the various offices of the Syrian Baath Party in Beirut but at these points the Lebanese  Army was most heavily present.

Next to the Future TV studios in Raouche, huge black canvases were draped all over the building.

Inside the Hariri family residence in the Qoreitem neighborhood of town where the family was accepting condolences from anyone who wanted to come the atmosphere was dark. Crowds milled and sat, drank coffee, waiting for their turn to file through the column where Hariri's brother, and sons, and opposition leaders Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt and Maronite Patriarche Nasrallah Sfeir stood beneath a picture of the former premier.

Tensions bubbled inside the large hall and at one point rose to boiling point as Bahaeddine Hariri took the floor and appealed for calm saying that he and the family would continue his father's legacy in Lebanon and that his death would not go in vain.

Outside the setting sun cast long shadows on the streets of Beirut, Martyr's Square and downtown coaxing the day into the night.

 

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