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Anti-Syria protest breaks out at funeral

BEIRUT -- In an unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger, mourners shouted "Syria Out!" as they crowded Beirut's streets yesterday to bury their former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, stayed away, warned not to come by Hariri supporters who blame his government and Damascus for his death.

In Syria, government officials were silent as American and UN pressure continued to mount.

The assassination "angered the international community, and this requires that we shed the light on this heinous, indescribable act," said President Jacques Chirac of France, a friend of Hariri's who flew in to offer condolences.

Late yesterday, Chirac and his wife accompanied Hariri's widow, Nazek, to her slain husband's flower-covered grave at the towering Mohammed al-Amin Mosque, which Hariri had built in downtown Beirut.

The dignitaries were surrounded by heavily armed police holding back hundreds of chanting Hariri supporters, who screamed "Syria Out, Syria Out" before singing Lebanon's national anthem. Chirac received a rousing round of applause from the crowd, who yelled "Vive Chirac, Vive France."

The US representative at the funeral, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, called again on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon -- a further spike in US-Syrian tensions a day after the United States recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

"Mr. Hariri's death should give -- in fact, it must give -- renewed impetus to achieving a free, independent, and sovereign Lebanon," Burns said after a meeting with Lebanon's foreign minister.

"And what that means is the complete and immediate withdrawal by Syria of all of its forces in Lebanon," Burns said.

Along the funeral route, mourners draped Lebanese flags from balconies and held up pictures of the former prime minister, who was assassinated Monday by a massive bomb that also killed 16 others.

A huge crowd first gathered outside Hariri's house, then marched for two hours behind the ambulance carrying his coffin to the mosque where the slain billionaire was buried.

An estimated 200,000 people gathered around the mosque for the noon funeral prayers, hanging from scaffolding and street lights to catch a glimpse of the coffin, draped in Lebanon's red, white, and green flag. On Tuesday, the UN Security Council demanded Lebanon bring the culprits to justice.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, whose country refused France's initial call for an international investigation, urged Lebanese authorities to hold "a quick inquiry to find the culprits and punish them."

"Otherwise the situation in the Arab world and Lebanon will go in a bad direction," Faisal warned.

Screaming, weeping mourners turned out to pay tribute to Hariri, who many credit with rebuilding Lebanon after its devastating 1975-90 civil war.

But the funeral was also seen as a protest against Syria, which has long been this country's main power broker and which still maintains 15,000 troops -- and an extensive intelligence network -- in Lebanon.

As the mourners marched through Beirut, young men shouted insults at President Bashar Assad of Syria, calling on him to "remove your dogs from Beirut" -- a reference to Syrian intelligence agents.

Syrian TV broadcast Lebanese television footage of the funeral, but authorities in Damascus were quiet.

Hariri, 60, was Lebanon's prime minister for 10 of the 14 years after the country's civil war. He resigned last year amid opposition to a Syrian-backed constitutional amendment that enabled his rival, Lahoud, to extend his term in office.

Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam of Syria, a close Hariri friend, attended the mosque service, but made no comments.

However, Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, said people insinuating Syria had a role in the attack were "lacking logic" and intent on damaging Syria.

Lebanon's interior minister has suggested a suicide bomber aided by "international parties" may have been behind the bomb attack on Hariri's motorcade, but no credible claims of responsibility have emerged.

In a sign of Hariri's ability to reach across Lebanon's often-volatile divisions, Sunni Muslim clerics, Druse leaders in white turbans, and ordinary Lebanese Shi'ites and Christians all marched in the funeral. Hariri was a Sunni Arab. Breaking with Islamic tradition, hundreds of weeping women waving white handkerchiefs joined the men in the march.

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