Thousands of people gathered in the Lebanese capital Wednesday to commemorate the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri and urge his son Saad to make a political comeback.

Waving the pale-blue flags of Saad Hariri's political party the Future Movement, the crowd clapped and cheered as he paid his respects at his father's tomb in central Beirut.

"We want Saad Hariri to return to Lebanon, so that security and stability return," said Dina Hleihel, 55, a supporter who was present at the rally.

Hariri was thrust into the political limelight following the February 14, 2005 assassination of his father.

Ever the reluctant politician, he resigned as prime minister after unprecedented nationwide protests broke out in 2019 demanding the wholesale overhaul of Lebanon's political class.

In 2022, he announced he was leaving politics and boycotted a parliamentary election that year.

Mahmud Hammud, 32, also at the rally, told AFP that "today, all of Lebanon wants Saad Hariri to return to politics, because he can save Lebanon and garner international support."

Despite now living in the United Arab Emirates, Hariri, who returned to Beirut on Sunday ahead of the anniversary, is still considered the country's main Sunni Muslim leader.

Once enjoying strong support from Saudi Arabia, Hariri's relationship with the regional heavyweight deteriorated over the years as the kingdom accused him of being too accommodating to the pro-Iran Hezbollah movement.

The Sunni community, long a major political force which under Lebanon's delicate sectarian power-sharing system conventionally holds the post of prime minister, has been sidelined and beset by divisions since Hariri's self-imposed exile.

Political life in Lebanon as a whole has been paralysed for months, with deep divisions between the powerful pro-Iran camp centred around the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, and its adversaries.

The country has been without a president for more than a year, while a caretaker government is at the helm as Lebanon navigates a crushing four-year economic crisis.

Rafic Hariri, a towering figure, was killed in a suicide bombing targeting his armoured convoy.

The attack killed 22 people and injured 226.

In 2022, a United Nations-backed court sentenced two Hezbollah members in absentia to life imprisonment over the huge 2005 truck bombing.