Lebanon pays farewell to murdered MP

Lebanon on Wednesday buried slain anti-Syrian MP and press magnate Gibran Tueni, whose killing sharpened international pressure on former power broker Syria and triggered angry calls in Beirut for a regime change in Damascus.

Army and police forces were patrolling the streets of Beirut as schools, banks and shops remained shut in response to calls by the ruling anti-Syrian majority in Parliament to observe a strike nationwide.

Tueni (48) was killed in a massive car bomb blast on Monday just a day after his return from France, where he had been spending time for fear of an attempt on his life amid a spate of attacks on critics of Syria.

At an emotionally charged funeral, his father, veteran diplomat Ghassan Tueni (79), urged the Lebanese to rally around the slain journalist’s quest for Lebanese sovereignty and unity among Christians and Muslims.

“Bury with Gibran any sentiment of revenge and your rancour,” said a stoic Tueni, one of the few mourners who remained dry-eyed throughout the moving ceremony at the 19th century St George’s Cathedral in downtown Beirut.

The packed white-stone church rang with Greek Orthodox chants and echoed with the sobs of his widow, Siham; his daughters Nayla and Michelle; and family members, colleagues, politicians and supporters.

In the nearby Parliament, several lawmakers lambasted Syria and demanded a government change in Damascus after observing a minute of silence in homage to Tueni, whose seat was draped in a Lebanese flag.

Outside, hundreds of thousands of mourners waved Lebanese flags and vented their rage at Syria, blaming it for a series of political assassination over the years. They also demanded the resignation of Damascus-backed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

“Lahoud, shame on you. Resign,” they chanted.
“Our president is under the Syrian boot” and “Syria out.”

Draft resolution

At United Nations headquarters in New York, France—the former colonial power in Lebanon—on Tuesday submitted a draft UN Security Council resolution extending for six months the UN probe of the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri and broadening it to cover other assassinations.

The Lebanese government has also called for an international court to be set up in the Hariri case and for an international probe into the string of murders and attacks targeting anti-Syrian critics over the past year.

The move irked the Shi’ite Cabinet ministers of the pro-Syrian Amal-Hezbollah movements who walked out, threatening the fragile balance of the five-month-old coalition government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Syria, under fire over what chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis has described as its slow pace of cooperation in the probe, has denied any involvement in the attacks.

“Syrian cooperation has been grudging at best. We are looking for ways to make sure that the international pressure on Syria is unrelenting,” said John Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Seta, a black-clad Armenian woman in her 70s, was the first mourner to take a seat inside the small white-stone cathedral on Wednesday, tears streaming across her face and fingering a rosary.

“The Alawites will never leave us in peace. First they killed Hariri and now Gibran Tueni. God help us,” she said as workers decorated the church with red and white chrysanthemums.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been implicated in the Mehlis report on Hariri’s murder in February, belongs to the Alawite Muslim sect.

The ruling anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon’s Parliament has also blamed Syria for Tueni’s killing and one of its key players, Druze MP Walid Jumblatt, has called for regime change in Damascus.

“This time this regime should change and should be tried,” Jumblatt told CNN television Tuesday. “If he stays, we won’t have stability in the Middle East. Anyone who opposes the Syrian regime is assassinated. They execute you, then they cry for you, walk at your funeral.”

Jumblatt charged that Damascus ordered the killing of his father, Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, in 1977 as well as former Lebanese president Rene Moawad in 1989.

In New York, Mehlis told the Security Council that the probe into Hariri’s death might take “another year or two” because of the slow pace of Syrian cooperation.

His report—the second since October in the Hariri murder—cited fresh evidence suggesting that Syrian and Lebanese officers were involved in the murder.

The German magistrate told the UN that Syria only agreed to let his team interview five Syrian suspects in Vienna last week “after much hesitation and procrastination”.

But Syria’s UN envoy, Fayssal Mekdad, insisted his government “has cooperated fully during the last period and reiterates its readiness to cooperate with the investigation during the upcoming period”.

Mekdad also reiterated that it was not in Syrian interest to stir problems in neighbouring Lebanon by killing prominent politicians and journalists.

In Lebanon, pressure has also been mounting against pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, who has faced calls to stand down since Hariri’s murder.

The killing triggered massive public protests and international pressure that forced Syria to pull out its last troops from Lebanon in April after three decades of military presence.—Sapa-AFP

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