11/23/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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Lebanon waits with bated breath to bid farewell to Pierre Gemayel

by Youssef Hourany

Incidents are feared as half a million people are expected for the ceremony in a country that has been brought to a standstill by national mourning and strikes. Security has doubled around the presidential palace. Patriarch Sfeir and several moderate voices are calling for an end to violence.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – More than a half a million people are expected for the funeral of Pierre Gemayel that will be celebrated at 1pm by the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir in the Cathedral of St George in the heart of Beirut, near the tomb of the slain ex-premier Rafic Hariri. It was Hariri's murder two years ago that sparked the revolution of Lebanon's independence. Once again, there is talk of a new 14 March, when the huge crowd that gathered after Hariri's death put in motion the events that lead to the withdrawal of the Syrians.

It is a Thursday of anxiety and sadness: national mourning and strikes have led to the closure of universities, schools and offices, while condemnation of this latest crime continues to pour in. Patriarch Sfeir said: "It could be the beginning of a new chain of violence in the country." The cardinal has made yet another appeal to the international community to take on its responsibilities with regard to Lebanon, because "this crime is a crime against all of Lebanon and not just against a family, or against a political line". The appeal of Benedict XVI has been greeted with appreciation across the country; it is considered as a new plea to the conscience of the world to put an end to the crisis afflicting the small country.

Lebanon's highest ranking personalities from all religious denominations as well as diplomats are expected at the funeral of Gemayel and his bodyguard Samir Chartouni. However it is not certain whether the President of the Republic, Emile Laboud, will attend, given that all four scheduled speeches are expected to call for his resignation. Speeches will be delivered by: the father of the murdered minister, ex-president Amin Gemayel, the Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, the head of the 14 March movement, Saad El Hariri, and the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea. All will be concerned about one thing: asking to know the truth about what is going on in Lebanon.

In the city, eye witnesses say security measures around the Baabda presidential palace have "doubled" due to fears that something may happen that could be defined as a reaction to the assassination of the minister, who was for many "a hope and seed of a new Christian political generation".

For his part, General Michel Aoun has insisted on the necessity of discovering the truth within six days at most, otherwise it would be a failure and the government would fail, and he invited all his followers to accompany in prayer and actual presence the body of Minister Gemayel and his bodyguard Samir Chartouni.

As regards the investigations, the Minister of the Interior, Ahmad Fatfat, revealed some leads about the nature of the crime, saying that more than one car was following the minister who was killed and more than one criminal participated in the attack, which was perpetrated with the aim of decreasing the number of ministers and blocking the formation of the UN international tribunal. He said he had feared his murder as Minister of the Interior more than that of Minister Gemayel. Sources of the judiciary reported that some eye witnesses had been heard, as well as the second person forming part of the minister's bodyguard team, who is still in hospital. The sources confirmed two people had shot the minister and a second car was ferrying the criminals about.

President Gemayel, in a television interview, refused to point fingers at anyone and did not attack Syria, considered the only regional power capable of doing such a thing. He launched an appeal to all Lebanese people to listen to the voice of moderates calling for an end to violence and for a transition to a new stage that would put an end to all criminal scheming. He said this could not be attained without national consensus.

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