Lebanon Reacts to Yet Another Political Assassination



Stores, banks and some government offices were closed in many parts of Beirut to mourn the slaying of Christian member of parliament Antoine Ghanem in a car bomb explosion, Wednesday. Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut

Anger, frustration and fear are gripping many Lebanese, after Wednesday's powerful car bomb explosion that ripped through rush-hour traffic and killed Christian Lebanese Member of Parliament Antoine Ghanem.

Many stores, banks and offices across Beirut chose not open. Traffic remains light, as supporters of the embattled anti-Syrian governing coaliton observed a general strike to protest his killing.

Beirut's An Nahar newspaper, whose editor, Jibrane Tueni, was killed in a similar explosion, two years ago, writes that Ghanem's slaying sends what it calls "a bloody message" to the government and its supporters.

The newspaper says the explosion was intended to reduce the number of pro-government members of parliament and to scuttle presidential elections set for September 25.

Lebanon's parliament meets in five days to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

The pro-Syrian Hezbollah group and its allies, which withdrew from the government last year, have been threatening to boycott parliament, which elects the president, making a required two-thirds quorum impossible to reach.

Political leaders close to the ruling anti-Syrian majority have been vocal in condemning the killing of Mr. Ghanem. Many of them are accusing Syria in his death, as well as in the death's of eight other politicians and journalists in the past two years.

The head of Lebanon's National Liberal Party and the son of former president Camille Chamoun, Dory Chamoun, insists Syria was involved in the latest slaying and that Damascus is trying to manipulate the upcoming presidential election to impose its own candidate.

"It was naturally a bad surprise, since I had just had a coffee the day before with him and he was a friend and so it is a very sad thing, but we never discounted such action on behalf of the Syrians," said Chamoun. "We have always thought that they would try and do their maximum to diminish the majority, so that the major[ity] will not be able to elect a President and so that they can impose a president that is their man, and they can step back into Lebanon they way they were before, so this is all part of the Syrian plan."

George Jabbour, a leading member of the Syria's Ba'ath Party, denies Damascus played a role in Ghanem's slaying.

Former Lebanese president Amine Gemayel, who's son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was ambushed and killed by gunmen last November, expressed determination and persistence to move on with presidential elections.

"So it is a real tragedy for me and, in the meantime, for our party, the Kataeb Party, because he was a member of the parliament representing the party at the eve of the presidential elections. It is a real loss and we are determined to go all the way and to resist this barbarian behavior - those assassinations - and we will not surrender," he said. "We will pursue our struggle to strengthen our sovereignty and to keep Lebanon in the free world, endorsing the democratic values."

Lebanon Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, of the pro-Syrian opposition, is to meet with Sa'ad Hariri, the leader of the pro-government coalition and with Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, in the next couple of days. That meeting could determine the fate of next week's scheduled presidential electiom.

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