Beirut’s Million Man March
The second wave of pro-democracy rallies in Lebanon has attracted nearly one million demonstrators, easily surpassing the turnout for last week’s Hezbollah sponsored pro-Syria march.
Nearly one million people have gathered for an opposition rally in Beirut, officials say – a month after the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Beirut says the crowds turned the city centre into a sea of red, white and green – the colours of Lebanon’s national flag. They were protesting against the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon. The demonstration surpassed recent pro-Syrian rallies and is thought to be the biggest in Lebanese history.
Syria has pulled back some of its troops in Lebanon to the border.
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.
An emboldened Lebanese opposition mobilized more than 800,000 people to demand an end to Syrian military domination of Lebanon, hurling a potent challenge to the Syrian-backed government here. Beirut city official Mounib Nassereddine said the estimate of 800,000 did did not include demonstrators who were still arriving from all parts of the country ahead of the rally. Thousands of Lebanese had made their way throughout the morning to the capital by car, bus and boat, heading for Martyrs Square and the grave of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, assassinated exactly one month ago in a bomb blast. Lebanese television aired spectacular pictures of a massive throng in the square, showing thousands of demonstrators waving the red, white and green Lebanese flag in bright sunshine against the deep blue of the Mediterranean in the background.
Nassereddine said Monday’s gathering was “at least two and a half times” larger than last Tuesday’s turnout called by pro-Syrian Lebanese parties, notably the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. AFP correspondents estimated the crowd last week at 400,000. “Hezbollah organized a giant demonstration last Tuesday to intimidate us,” said Nada, 35, as she travelled to Beirut from Zahle in the east. “Today we’re taking up the challenge and invite it to join us because we represent the true majority of the country.”
These demonstrations aren’t a high school pep rally, where one side “wins” by cheering more loudly than the others. Indeed, it may be a moot point since Syria is in the process of withdrawal. Still, this is a sight to behold.