By Mohammed Zaatari - Daily Star Staff
SIDON: Residents in the southern city of Sidon were shocked to hear of former president Rafik Hariri's assassination and immediately recalled the assassination of Sidon MP and Mayor Maarouf Saad on Feb. 26, 1975.
Local protesters took to the streets repeatedly asking "Who killed Hariri?" and "Will this incident trigger war?"
Demonstrators holding Hariri's portraits filled the streets and set fire to car tires, creating a cloud of black smoke over the city.
Angry protestors expressed their loyalty to "the father of the country's reconstruction" and others cried out in anguish at the loss of Abu Baha' (Hariri): "This should not be the end of good people who made important sacrifices to Lebanon."
As tension mounted, supporters of Hariri questioned the fate of the country in the absence of political freedom, shouting slogans strongly denouncing several government officials, including President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Omar Karami, and Interior and Municipalities Minister Suleiman Franjieh, as well as the Syrian government.
As protesters headed toward the Hariri-owned Future Television station, Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army cordoned off the area for security reasons.
Meanwhile, the public gathering hall, Daret Saida, was opened for those wishing to express their regret for the loss of their political leader and in mosques across the city, worshippers chanted prayers for the deceased.
The Sidon municipality hung the Lebanese flag at half mast, draped the municipal walls with black banners and in coordination with the Sidon Merchants Association, called for shops to close by 1.30 p.m.
In Tripoli, Hariri supporters headed to the Future Movement offices while schools, universities and malls were shut down as soon as news spread in the northern city.
Residents of Tripoli were glued to their television sets as they watched the local channels broadcasting footage of the assassination.
Hundreds of residents from the Chouf went to the American University Hospital where Hariri was rushed after the blast and to Hariri's residence in Koraytem, causing heavy traffic jams along the coastal highway leading to Beirut.
Mosques in Chouf towns and villages repeated prayers for the official "who strived for Lebanon's resuscitation on the social, educational and human levels." - Additional reporting by Nicolas Tohme and Maher Zeineddine