BEIRUT,(Reuters) – An assassinated anti-Syrian Christian lawmaker was buried on Friday after thousands of mourners marched behind his coffin in east Beirut, waving flags and throwing rice and flowers at his funeral procession.
Antoine Ghanem’s death in a car bomb attack on Wednesday — the eighth anti-Syrian figure killed in 2-1/2 years — raised political tension and a leader of his pro-government party urged the opposition not to block the election of a new president.
The anti-Syrian ruling coalition and opposition parties that include the pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement are locked in a 10-month-old tussle and the presidential election is seen as a crucial step towards ending their standoff.
Parliament is due to meet on Tuesday to elect pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud’s successor, but the vote is unlikely to take place because of the lack of a two-thirds quorum, achievable only if the opposing camps agree on a compromise candidate beforehand.
Ghanem’s death has reduced the ruling Sunni-Christian-Druze alliance to 68 seats in the 128-seat parliament, a slim majority over the Shi’ite-Christian opposition which has threatened to boycott any session if there is no deal over a new president.
Amin Gemayel, head of the Phalange Party to which his son — assassinated in November — and Ghanem belonged, warned of the consequences if the election was not held on time. “Your martyrdom Antoine is cherished. No one should boycott the election of the new president, or he should bear the consequence in front of the people, the nation, and history,” he told a sea of black-clad mourners at the funeral service in the Maronite Christian Sacre Coeur church in eastern Beirut. “What I fear the most is that the vacuum in Lebanon will lead to division. Is that what the boycotters want? Especially the Christians?” Gemayel asked.
Ghanem, 64, was the seventh anti-Syrian figure to be killed in Lebanon since the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, whose death and that of others the Western-backed governing coalition blames on Damascus. Syria has consistently condemned the attacks.
Late on Thursday political sources said rival leaders had made contact to defuse tensions in Lebanon’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, but added that it was very unlikely they could strike a deal in time for a vote next week.
Mourners filled an east Beirut neighbourhood waving the white and green flag of the Phalange Party, and party anthems blared from loudspeakers as women threw rice and flowers from their balconies at the coffins of Ghanem and his two bodyguards.
Pallbearers carried the coffins draped in Lebanese and Phalange flags to the church, where the service was attended by senior Lebanese and international politicians, and the dead were later laid to rest at a nearby cemetery.
Some mourners accused Syria of stoking instability in Lebanon with the latest political killing. “This is a crime. We want Lebanon to be free of foreign forces and to be independent. We want the Lebanese to live together as brothers, from all sects,” said mourner Ghaleb Shayya.