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Region's strife tears at Lebanon's fragile seams

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While the murder of a former prime minister two years ago triggered the "Cedar Revolution" that inspired hope for a new era of prosperity, today Lebanon is bitterly divided, paralyzed by political strife.

As it prepared to mark the second anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination Wednesday, explosions Tuesday killed three people in a town near Beirut, another sign that Lebanon's hope for stability and peace are far from being realized.

"We are being dragged into a big regional conflict and power play," says Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. "On one side we are trying to establish ... independence and on the other side we are confronted by the state of Hizbullah backed by the Syrians and the Iranians."

At stake is the survival of the government – one the West holds up as an example for democratic reform in the region – said Prime Minister Fouad Sinora in an interview at the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the government building that overlooks downtown Beirut.

"We are a government defending real democracy and real independence, which is unique in this part of the world," said Mr. Siniora.

Tuesday's bombings in a Christian town targeted commuter buses that were hired to transport participants to Wednesday's planned rally.

Saad Hariri, son and political heir of the slain former premier, described the bombings as terrorism. "It's part of the criminal series of assassinations that have been happening in Lebanon," he says. "It's a message to put fear into people's hearts before the memorial to my late father."

The attacks come as the US-backed government remains locked in a political battle with the opposition, led by the militant Shiite group Hizbullah. That struggle has seen hundreds of antigovernment protesters camped out in central Beirut and street clashes between rival factions that have left at least nine people dead and more than 300 wounded.

A substantial turnout is expected Wednesday to honor Mr. Hariri, who died in a massive truck bomb blast in Beirut along with 22 other people in 2005. The gathering beside his tomb will be as much a gesture of support for the beleaguered government as a commemoration.


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