Hundreds of thousands of mourners Thursday bid slain Christian
politician Pierre Gemayel farewell as his father announced that the "countdown
for the election of a new president has started."
"Independence can only be achieved through the election of new
president," said former President Amine Gemayel, father of Industry Minister
Pierre Gemayel who was gunned down along with a bodyguard Tuesday. The young
politician was the sixth outspoken opponent of Syria to be assassinated in the
past two years.
Anti-Syrian leaders have been calling for the resignation of Syrian
protégé President Emile Lahoud whose mandate was extended for three years
through a controversial Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment in 2004.
Prominent Lebanese leaders and ambassadors packed the St. George
Cathedral as the casket was placed on the altar along with the coffin of his
bodyguard, Samir al-Shartouni.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Arab League chief Amr
Mussa were among the dignitaries attending the 1:00 p.m. funeral service in
Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally, surprised the mourners by showing
up unexpectedly at the funeral.
In a message read at the funeral, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the
"unspeakable" assassination of Gemayel.
"We are all very moved by this unspeakable act," he said in the message
read by a Jesuit priest at the cathedral where Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, head
of the Maronite church to which Gemayel belonged, led the service in a rare
"I hope that all Lebanese remain united in these circumstances and that
they renew their determination to rebuild an autonomous Lebanon... where all
communities are ensured active participation," he said.
In his sermon, Sfeir said that the "spate of crimes continues in order
to prevent Lebanon from achieving stability."
Gemayel's casket, wrapped in flags of the Phalange party and Lebanon,
was taken to Bikfaya for burial in the family graveyard at the end of the
From the family home in Bikfaya, through the village's main street to
the entrance of the town, Gemayel's coffin was carried on shoulders by
relatives and supporters before being placed in a cortege and driven to the
Phalange party headquarters in Saifi from where it made the final trek to the
Amid a sea of red and white flags in a show of patriotism for the
funeral, hundreds of thousands assembled at the nearby Martyrs Square in a
show of force against opponents led by Hizbullah and their Syrian backers.
Young men stamped on Lahoud portraits and his Syrian and Iranian
counterparts, Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the principal backers of
Hizbullah and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
"Nasrallah, come and see who is the majority" in Lebanon, chanted the
"We want only the army to bear weapons," the mourners chanted, referring
to Hizbullah's persistent refusal to lay down its weapons in accordance with
U.N. Security Council resolutions following the devastating summer war with
Others brandished anti-Syrian posters. One poster read "Get Bashar's
agent out of Baabda," a reference to Lahoud. Another placard read: "Caesar of
Baabda, Get Lost!" Baabda is the presidential headquarters.
Schools, shops and other businesses across Lebanon have been asked to
remain closed Thursday as a mark of respect.
On the eve of the funeral, convoys of cars covered with portraits of
Gemayel and Hariri criss-crossed the streets of Beirut playing patriotic
Security around the capital has been stepped up since the minister's
murder, with extra roadblocks around the presidential palace and on the main
highway to Damascus.
On Thursday Lebanese troops, backed by armored vehicles, were out in
force across Beirut for the funeral.
Army command sources told the pro-Syrian Al-Akhbar newspaper that the
military "remains neutral" to the political disputes in Lebanon and will
continue to protect all state institutions, including the presidential palace.
Before Gemayel's slaying, Hizbullah had threatened to hold its own mass
protests in an attempt to bring down Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's
Hizbullah officials said Wednesday the group would take no action in the
coming days to allow emotions to cool.
Many feared Thursday's demonstration could be the first in a round of
shows that could bring the political standoff into the volatile streets.
Gemayel's assassination introduced new tensions into the already
dangerous power struggle in Lebanon. The polarization has become as sharp and
exposed as it has been since the end of the 1975-90 civil war between Muslims
The anti-Damascus politicians who run the government were quick to point
the finger at Syria and called for a huge show of public determination to be
rid of the meddling of its larger neighbor.
The leader of the anti-Syrian majority in parliament, Saad Hariri, who
himself lost his father to an assassin's bomb last year, called on people from
across the nation to attend the Beirut funeral in a "show of support for
freedom and independence".
Christian opposition leader and Hizbullah ally General Michel Aoun
called on all Lebanese to attend the funeral, but indicated he would not be
Aoun told the private television channel NBN Wednesday he regretted that
the Gemayel family did not allow him to present his condolences. "They told me
this was not the time. I regret that," he said.
Damascus stressed that the timing of Gemayel's murder, on the day the
United Nations endorsed a blueprint for a tribunal to try suspects in the 2005
murder of Hariri, was designed to cause it maximum damage.
The governing anti-Syrian camp in Beirut, faced with a growing challenge
from Hizbullah since its war with Israel, is the only party which stands to
gain from the minister's assassination, the official press in Damascus argued.
Hizbullah and other the pro-Syrian Amal movement of Speaker Nabih Berri
pulled their ministers out of the cabinet earlier this month after all-party
talks failed to reach agreement on a government of national unity and has
threatened a campaign of street protests to achieve their
goal.(Naharnet-AP-AFP)(Outside photo shows Gemayel's coffin, and inside photo
shows his mother, Joyce, comforting his widow, Patricia)
Beirut, 23 Nov 06, 13:40
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