11/23/2006, 00.00
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Huge crowds bid farewell to Pierre Gemayel

by Youssef Hourany
More than half a million people fill downtown Beirut. Clashes occur in Shia neighbourhood of Basta. Patriarch Sfeir urges forgiveness in the face of violence. President Lahoud does not attend whilst Hariri and Geagea call again for his resignation.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – More than 500,000 people were in the streets of Beirut today for the funeral of Pierre Gemayel. A human tide of six kilometres (four miles) lined up the road that took the assassinated minister to his home town of Bikfaya where he was laid to rest.

The population took part in the ceremony in the presence of Lebanon's highest authorities, except for President Émile Lahoud, and foreign ambassadors.

Few incidents were reported, but a few people were wounded in clashes that broke out when supporters of anti-Syrian party al-Mostaqbal (Future)—led by Saad Hariri, son and political heir to assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri—passed through predominantly-Shia, Basta neighbourhood a Hezbollah  and Amal stronghold. Men from both camps began attacking each with sticks before the army moved in with tanks to restore order.

During the funeral, after Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Elias Awde, who represented Patriarch Ignatius VI Hazim, read from the Gospel, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir stressed the importance of forgiveness urging everyone to work together to erase these dark pages in the history of lebanon.

The cardinal exhorted people to respond to violence with forgiveness, not vengeance. He insisted on the role played by Lebanon's martyrs but could not hide his concern for the spread of violence which could force people to expatriate.

After expressing his solidarity to the victim's family, the patriarch reminded the international community of its responsibility vis-à-vis Lebanon. He expressed hope that the truth about the recent spate of political assassinations will be revealed soon, and reiterated his trust in the role the United Nations tribunal might play.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora were among the dignitaries present at the ceremony. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy were also in attendance.

People from every region of Lebanon filled downtown Beirut in a scene that was reminiscent of the March 14 mass rally that started the revolution for Lebanon's independence and led to the Syrian troop pullout.

Claiming security reasons, Lebanese President Lahoud did not come. But he did renew his appeal for calm, reiterating the need for national reconciliation, a necessary milestone on which Lebanon's rebirth could begin.

Former President Amin Gemayel, Pierre Gemayel's father, spoke with great emotion, renewing his family's commitment to serve the country and urging everyone to forgive and pray.

Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea, for their part, insisted on the necessity of removing President Lahoud from office because Lebanon could not continue on its present course with him at Baabda Palace (the official residence of the President of Lebanon).

The two political leaders also urged the international community to play a greater role in finding a solution to the political crisis that is destroying lebanon.

At the end of the funeral ceremony, Pierre Gemayel's body was taken to his family's home village of Bikfaya to be buried near his uncle Bashir, killed in 1982, and his cousin Maya, Bashir's daughter, who was also killed in 1979 in a car bomb. All the streets in the district of Metn, where Bikfaya is located, were crowded, with a six-kilometre line-up.

The body of Samir Chartouni, Pierre Gemayel's bodyguard, who was also killed in the deadly attack against the minister, was buried in his home village of Kahhale.

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