Lebanon marks 69th independence anniversary

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 Lebanon marked the 69th anniversary of the country’s independence Thursday with an official ceremony in Downtown Beirut.

President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and former President Amin Gemayel all attended the 50-minute Independence Day military parade at Shafiq Wazzan Avenue in Downtown Beirut Thursday morning.

Streets leading to the area were cordoned off for the ceremony, which was also attended by Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, Internal Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, and a number of Lebanese dignitaries and lawmakers of both the March 8 and March 14 camps.

A 21-gun salute was fired at the start of the parade after which Sleiman laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A helicopter show greeted Sleiman’s motorcade upon arrival, while infantry and navy commandos took part in the parade.

At the end of the parade, Sleiman, Berri and Mikati headed to the presidential palace in Baabda to receive well-wishers.

The celebration comes amid deep tension between Lebanon’s Hezbollah-led March 8 and the March14-led opposition since the Oct. 19 assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.

March 14, who accuse Syria of the killing and hold Mikati responsible, declared a boycott of the Cabinet shortly after the incident and set its resignation as a precondition to resume dialogue.

In his independence address Wednesday evening, President Sleiman renewed his calls for the rival factions to resume dialogue and pledged the coming 2013 parliamentary polls will be held on time.

“Dialogue is needed at all times and circumstances, especially at this particular phase in order to find practical and acceptable solutions to end the state of tension and anxiety that has existed across the country since the assassination of Hasan,” Sleiman said.

 

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