Lebanon pro-Western Opposition Protests Against Hezbollah Arms

Rally marks the 2005 uprising that ended Syria's domination of Lebanon and expresses support for outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Tens of thousands of supporters of outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri gathered in Beirut on Sunday to protest the weapons arsenal held by the rival Shiite movement Hezbollah.

In a rally which marked the 2005 uprising that ended Syria's 30-year domination of Lebanon, the country's pro-Western opposition waved Lebanese flags and posters of Saad Hariri's father and former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah weapons - AFP - 13.3.11

Buses loaded with followers of Saad Hariri's March 14 alliance arrived in the capital from north, east and south Lebanon to participate in a rally held under the slogan: "End the Supremacy of Arms in Lebanon."

"We want only the arms of the Lebanese army," read banners carried by some protesters, who were also waving Lebanese flags.

The militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, was the only Lebanese political faction allowed to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war. The group argues it needs them to defend Lebanon from possible Israeli attacks.

Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination prompted the uprising that drove out Syrian troops later that year. The billionaire businessman had been quietly challenging Damascus' domination over Lebanon at the time of his assassination.

In 2008, Hezbollah militants seized most of Beirut, following week-long clashes with Hariri's allies after the then western-backed government of premier Fouad Seniora tried to dismantle the group's private telecommunications network.

Saad Hariri announced last month that he is going into opposition, after his unity government collapsed when Hezbollah and its political allies pulled out of his cabinet after a dispute over the UN-backed tribunal, which is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the killing of his father.

Scores of people camped overnight at Martyrs Square, where the demonstration is being held. Security forces have been deployed to prevent violence.