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Arab Leaders Pay Tribute to Gemayel


Over half a million Lebanese mourners gathered in Beirut's city center to honor slain Christian leader Pierre Gemayel, as government leaders and Arab dignitaries paid their last respects during funeral ceremonies at Beirut's historic St. George cathedral. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.

Hundreds of thousands of mourners carrying banners and waving Lebanese flags swarmed Beirut's historic Martyrs' Square to lay to rest the popular 34-year-old minister and scion of a political dynasty, Pierre Gemayel.

Shops across Beirut were closed to honor his memory, and government officials, religious leaders, Arab dignitaries, and ordinary citizens, both Christian and Moslem converged on the city center to pay their last respects and condemn the latest in a series of political killings to rock Lebanon.

Church bells tolled and loudspeakers played martial music, as crowds of young men chanted, "down with Syria" and the "international tribunal will judge you."

Gemayel was shot and killed in his car Tuesday.

A long motorcade of vehicles carried the coffin of the slain former minister, along with close family members from the Gemayel family's mountain seat of Bikfaya into Beirut for services in the restored, landmark Mar Girgus Maronite church.

The leader of Lebanon's Maronite Catholic church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir pronounced the funeral oration for Pierre Gemayel, condemning the slaying, as his wife choked back tears and his father, former President Amin Gemayel sat grim-faced and somber.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, parliamentary leader Sa'ad Hariri, and top government ministers were all in attendance at the service, amid tight security, in a show of solidarity for the Gemayel family.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, the papal envoy and dignitaries from several Gulf States were also present at the funeral.

Following church services, leaders of March 14 movement, which opposes Syrian domination of Lebanon, led the chanting by crowds in front of the al-Amin mosque, close to the site where Gemayel and other victims of recent assassinations have been laid to rest.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who has openly accused Syria of killing Gemayel, told the crowd that "the truth and justice will triumph" and Damascus and its allies will "not be able to stop the UN tribunal" that will judge the alleged killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority, which opposes Syria and son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Sa'ad Hariri, said the quest for justice will continue until the truth about the assassination of Gemayel and others is known.

The former President told al-Arabiya TV Wednesday that Syria was behind the killing of his brother Bashir Gemayel in 1982, and that it was the main suspect in Tuesday's killing of his son Pierre.

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