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Lebanon Bids Gemayel Farewell

as Father Announces 'Countdown' for New President

(Retrieved from Naharnet on November 23, 2006



 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 downtown Beirut.


 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



 "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 move.


 "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



 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 funeral.


 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 cathedral.


 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 crowd. 


 "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 Israel.


 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 music.


 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



 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 government.

 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 and Christians.

 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 there himself.


 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



 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).