BEIRUT, Lebanon – Rafik Hariri (search), a self-made billionaire construction tycoon who amassed his fortune in Saudi Arabia, led the rebuilding of a shattered Lebanon as its prime minister in the years following the tiny country's protracted civil war.
Hariri died Monday when his motorcade was bombed in Beirut. He was 60.
Hariri's vast fortune — estimated at $4 billion — allowed him to maintain political independence without defying his country's main power-broker, Syria, which keeps about 15,000 troops in Lebanon and influences virtually all key political decisions.
He oversaw the country's revival after the 1975-90 civil war, serving as prime minister for 10 of 14 years before stepping down in October 2004 amid an intense power struggle. For years, he'd been engaged in a fierce rivalry with Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud (search).
A charismatic man with international connections — including a close friendship with French President Jacques Chirac (search) — Hariri was for years regarded by many Lebanese as the country's hope for economic revival and political stability.
Though he had publicly tried to avoid offending Damascus, his pro-Syrian opponents accused him of being the driving force behind the U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution in September that demanded Syria withdraw its army from Lebanon.
The Lebanese government invited its much larger neighbor into the country to provide security during the war. But Syria never released its grip.
In 1989, Hariri paid all the expenses of a Christian-Muslim peace conference in Taif, Saudi Arabia, which produced the accord that finally ended the civil war between the country's two main religious groups.
He was the major shareholder in Solidere, the private company in charge of rebuilding Beirut's war-shattered downtown. Although credited for the revival, his critics blamed him for running up a huge debt in the process.
He first became prime minister in October 1992 under the terms of the Taif peace agreement, which required the premier to be a Sunni Muslim. He hoped to restore national confidence in the Lebanese economy and bolster the country's burgeoning business community.
But in 1998, he lost his post after a squabble with Elias Hrawi, the Lebanese president at the time, over how to prop up the country's ailing economy. He was asked to form a new government in October 2000 after a landslide victory in general elections.
Hariri enjoyed the backing of Western governments; in 2002, he met with President Bush in Washington.
There were always threats to his security within the country, though. As prime minister, Hariri reportedly traveled in an armored limousine equipped with a device that jammed mobile phones to prevent assassination attempts by remote controlled bombs.
He resigned for the last time in October 2004 following the extension of Lahoud's presidency, secured by a Syrian-backed constitutional amendment that Hariri had opposed. The extension was in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, adopted Sept. 2, 2004, that called for a withdrawal of Syrian troops and for Lebanese presidential elections to be held.
Under apparent pressure from Damascus, Hariri signed the decree allowing the extension of Lahoud's mandate and voted in Parliament for Lahoud's additional three years as president. Then, he surprised the nation by announcing his resignation.
After stepping down, Hariri stayed mostly on the sidelines. But some viewed him as the "silent opponent" to Lebanon's current pro-Syrian government.
Born into a modest peasant family in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon, Hariri became one of the region's wealthiest men and one of his country's most influential politicians.
He first became involved with politics as a student drawn to Arab nationalist ideas at Beirut University in the 1960s.
He moved to Saudi Arabia and worked as a school teacher and accountant but then started his own business and made a fortune in the immensely profitable construction industry that boomed along with the kingdom's oil wealth.
Along the way, he built crucial ties with the Saudi monarchy and received Saudi citizenship in 1987. He was a personal friend of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and used his close relations with the kingdom's oil-rich leaders to rebuild Lebanon.
Hariri ran a commercial empire that also embraced computers, banking, insurance, real estate and television and was the majority owner of Lebanon's Future Television.
A French firm he later acquired, Oger, became one of the largest construction businesses in the Mideast.
During Lebanon's civil war, Hariri funded charitable ventures, and, when the violence subsided, dispatched trucks from his construction company to clear debris from the streets.
He is survived by his wife, Nazik Hariri, and six children. A seventh child, his son Hussameddine, died in a 1991 car accident in the United States.