Beirut shows unity, no fear, with run

Published April 10, 2005

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — There were people in wheelchairs, fathers pushing strollers, young men in T-shirts and designer sunglasses, all in all at least 20,000 Lebanese took part in a run yesterday to demonstrate unity after two months of political turmoil.

Under a warm spring sun, the runners set off from Beirut’s Riad Solh Square on three-mile course that passed near the seafront boulevard where former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 19 others were killed in a massive bomb attack on Feb. 14.

They finished at Martyrs’ Square, the scene of a demonstration that brought down the government and numerous other protests during the past seven weeks.

Hariri’s sister, lawmaker Bahiya Hariri, released 50 white pigeons to start yesterday’s event, which was dubbed “United We Run.”

“There is no fear for this country as long as this great people are adamant on upholding their national unity, civil peace, independence, freedom and sovereignty,” Hariri said in a speech before the start.

The run is part of a series of activities that will mark the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war on April 13, 1975. There will be concerts and exhibitions of art and photography.

Most of the participants wore white for peace. Some wore T-shirts bearing Hariri’s picture. Other runners carried Lebanese flags.

Loudspeakers encouraged the runners with patriotic music and the national anthem, and soldiers stopped all traffic from entering the route of the run.

Hussein Majid, who completed the course in a wheelchair, said: “I came to show loyalty to Lebanon and for the sake of unity among the Lebanese.”

The organizers, Beirut Marathon Association, said about 50,000 people took part, but The Associated Press estimated the crowd to be about 20,000.

The association said the run was “aimed at strengthening national unity, preserving civil peace, (and) highlighting Lebanon’s cultural and civilized face.”