BEIRUT: Lebanon paid tribute to the late Rafik Hariri Wednesday as politicians and friends of the former prime minister visited his tomb and a torch was lit near the place of his assassination 13 years ago.
Speaking from a commemoration ceremony at Beirut’s BIEL, the late prime minister’s son and current prime minister, Saad Hariri, said that “Despite everything,” Lebanon was in “a region of safety because the spirit of Rafik Hariri is still with us.”
“We spilled our blood for our country. Its stability is the most important thing in our lives,” the premier said to cheering crowds. “Thirteen years and the region is boiling. Springs, wars, immigration..." He said that Syria has become “a place for militias and armies of all nationalities,” while Iraq, Yemen, Libya have been struck by terrorism. "Despite everything, I want to assure you Lebanon is in a region of safety because the spirit of Rafik Hariri is still with us.”
Hariri said that the country has followed the example of his late father to honor “the sacrifices of all the martyrs.”
“We kicked out Daesh (ISIS) ... Our army and security forces are now something to be proud of,” he said.
While acknowledging that economic, social, and political problems still were present in Lebanon, the prime minister praised the country’s “institutions, freedom, media, and [tolerance of] opposition” at a time when the wider region doesn’t have such freedoms.
“Thirteen years have passed and we are still adamant on reaching justice. We will not despair, we will not forget and we will not bargain. The justice of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is coming,” he said.
Turning to the Lebanese government’s policy of dissociation from regional conflicts, he said the policy meant “we want the best relations with all Arab countries,” and that “the state must respect this.”
“Some say that the country has been turned over to Hezbollah. They thought the elections will lead to the legalization of their weapons. These people know very well that the real political and electoral disagreement is between the Future Movement and Hezbollah.”
He said that people will try to split and divide his Future party, and that “those are the people who are really working for Hezbollah. I won’t say names, you all know who they are.”
He went on to say that the Future Movement will not ally themselves with Hezbollah and will show the country that their votes cannot be bought or sold. "Some say the Future Movement will lose because they are bankrupt and don't have money. This is an insult to you and the supporters of Rafik Hariri because it means Future Movement votes are bought and sold and you aren’t free to vote."
"This is the challenge? We want the challenge. Me and everyone of you have accepted the challenge. Yes, we don't have money for the elections. Good? We refuse any alliance with Hezbollah. Is that good?"
The prime minister said the Future Movement would head to the elections on "Future Movement ballots with candidates from all religions."
Hariri said that this year’s commemoration was also an opportunity to pay respects to Jerusalem. “For Jerusalem, the everlasting capital of Palestine, take a moment to stand in [solidarity] in silence for the endurance of the Palestinian people,” he said.
All political parties were invited to the event, excluding Hezbollah, local media reported.
Notably absent from the event were leaders of the now-defunct March 14 Movement - Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel and March 14 General Coordinator Fares Soueid.
MP Walid Jumblatt forwent the commemoration event and was represented by his son Taymour and a delegation from his Progressive Socialist Party. However, the elder Jumblatt did make his way to Hariri’s place of burial in Downtown Beirut earlier in the day.
Others took to Twitter to voice their respect for the work and patriotism practiced by Hariri.
Under the patronage of Hariri’s widow, Nazek Hariri, a ceremony was held at the Mohammad al-Amine Mosque. Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, MP Bahia Hariri and others were among those in attendance.
Separately, the torch near the statue of Hariri across from St. George Hotel was lit. Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri was present as a group of scouts performed a musical tribute to Hariri.
Hariri was assassinated 13 years ago in a massive car bomb explosion that also killed 21 others. The explosion occurred as Hariri was returning home from a Parliament meeting. He was taken to the American University of Beirut Hospital where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.