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News from Lebanon: Beirut mourns murdered MP

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  • Zafar Khan
    Beirut mourns murdered MP Mark Tran and agencies Friday September 21, 2007 Guardian Unlimited http://www.guardian.co.uk/syria/story/0,,2174186,00.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 22, 2007
      Beirut mourns murdered MP
      Mark Tran and agencies
      Friday September 21, 2007
      Guardian Unlimited


      Thousands of mourners today attended the funeral of an
      anti-Syrian MP whose assassination has deepened
      Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990
      civil war.

      Mourners packed the streets in east Beirut, waving the
      white and green flag of the rightwing Phalange party
      to which Antoine Ghanem belonged - as did the former
      industry minister Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated
      in November.

      Party anthems blared from loudspeakers as pallbearers
      carried Ghanem and his two bodyguards' coffins, draped
      in Lebanese and Phalange flags, to the Sacre Coeur

      "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," one mourner, Ghaleb Shayya, told Reuters.

      Ghanem, 64, who represented the Christian party, and
      six others died in a car bomb attack on Wednesday.

      The killing, which drew widespread international
      condemnation, has deepened fears that the divided
      country may lurch into further political turmoil.

      The timing of the assassination, the sixth anti-Syrian
      politician to die since a truck bomb killed the former
      prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, came
      just days before parliament meets to elect a new

      The death of Ghanem means the ruling alliance of
      Sunni, Christian and Druze factions - with 68 MPs in
      the 128-member assembly - now has only a slim majority
      over the opposition bloc that includes the Syrian- and
      Iranian-backed Hizbullah.

      Rival leaders last night reportedly discussed how to
      defuse a 10-month-old political crisis that has
      paralysed Lebanon's institutions, but it was highly
      unlikely they could strike a deal in time for next
      week's vote.

      "Things have not collapsed but more time is needed to
      ease tension. A compromise is still possible,
      eventually," said a senior opposition source.

      The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, this week
      warned that the failure to elect a new president could
      lead to two governments and two presidents, "a very
      worrisome situation for the peace and security of not
      only Lebanon, but also peace and security in the

      The president, who is elected for a one-off six-year
      term, has limited powers. But the post, which is
      reserved for the country's Maronite Christian
      minority, is ostensibly seen as a figure of unity.

      The US-backed government led by the prime minister,
      Faoud Siniora, is looking to parliament to elect
      someone less pro-Syria than the current president,
      Emile Lahoud. MPs allied to the prime minister
      appealed to the world to protect Lebanon from what
      they called a "new war" by Syria.

      "The Syrian regime has taken the decision to bring
      down the Lebanese republic," the anti-Syrian coalition
      said in a statement released after a meeting
      yesterday. "It has assigned its intelligence agencies
      to liquidate the lawmakers."

      Damascus has denied any involvement in Ghanem's death
      or in the recent spate of assassinations.

      "Of course, we condemn the Lebanese assassination,"
      Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, said

      Pro-west Lebanese MP is killed by Beirut car bomb

      · Victim was possible presidential candidate
      · Attack 'intended to sabotage political deal'

      Hugh Macleod in Beirut
      Thursday September 20, 2007
      The Guardian


      Less than a week before Lebanon's divided parliament
      was to begin electing a new president amid the
      nation's worst political crisis since the end of the
      civil war a leading Christian MP, touted as a possible
      compromise candidate, was assassinated by a huge car
      bomb last night. Antoine Ghanem, a Christian Maronite
      MP in Lebanon's Phalange party, was killed along with
      at least five others when a bomb exploded in the Sin
      el-Fil neighbourhood of predominantly Christian east

      The explosion tore through neighbouring buildings,
      blowing doors off hinges and sending shards of glass
      flying at terrified residents, injuring at least 30

      "We heard a huge bang, the lights went out and then we
      saw the flames," said Toufic Chebib, manager of a
      flower shop a short distance away from the attack.

      The site of the blast was less than a few hundred
      metres from the residence of the former president and
      head of the Phalange party, Amin Gemayel, whose son,
      Pierre Gemayel, was gunned down last November. Mr
      Ghanem, 64, a lawyer, had been a member of parliament
      since 2000 and became the sixth figure allied to the
      ruling pro-west majority to be assassinated since the
      murder in 2005 of the billionaire prime minister Rafik
      Hariri. The government blames Damascus, once the power
      broker in Lebanese affairs, for Hariri's murder and a
      string of more than a dozen other killings of figures
      opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon. Damascus has
      consistently denied the charge, though an ongoing UN
      investigation into Hariri's death found evidence of
      the involvement of Syrian intelligence officials in
      the murder.

      "This is an attack aimed at sabotaging all efforts to
      reach a solution to the current political crisis,"
      said Butros Harb, an MP and presidential candidate
      yesterday. "You cannot separate this killing from the
      presidential election."

      The outgoing president, Emile Lahoud, whom many in
      Lebanon consider a Syrian puppet following the
      extension of his term at the behest of Damascus, is
      due to step down by November 24. With the latest
      assassination underscoring the deep political and
      security crises blighting Lebanon, some analysts see
      the next election as a vital test of the state system.

      "The election is a challenge to the whole nature of
      Lebanon's governing system," said Rami Khouri,
      director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American
      University of Beirut. "As well as the ideological
      issues Lebanese politicians are arguing about, there
      are self-preservation issues about the balance of
      confessions and the sustainability of the current
      governing system."

      Bomb kills deputy and threatens to topple Lebanese
      By Robert Fisk in Beirut
      Published: 20 September 2007


      Antoine Ghanem was an easy target. Few bodyguards, no
      one would think that a member of parliament who
      represented the Armenians of Lebanon was a target. The
      little street in which he lived – tall tower blocks,
      boutiques, flower shops, was not a place where you
      would try to kill an enemy of Syria – if he was an
      enemy of Syria – but Antoine was blasted to pieces in
      his car as he left his home yesterday evening.

      And that means there is one left in the government to
      make up the numbers. In other words, it only takes one
      more murder for the democratically elected government
      of Lebanon to fall.

      Only a few weeks ago, Walid Jumblatt called me after
      Ghanem's predecessor was murdered. "Two more to go,
      Robert," Walid said. And so, tonight, it is one.

      To describe the tangled wreckage of the car bomb, the
      vile, obscene, traces of Mr Ghanem and his bodyguards,
      has become a kind of routine horror in Lebanon.

      Those of his cortege who did not die took me last
      night to the revolting remains of his death.

      Lebanon is not a democracy in our Western sense of the
      word. Nor, for that matter, is Israel. "Democracy", as
      we like to call it in the West, does not sit easily in
      this part of the world.

      But Lebanese politicians – for the most part but not
      always, men, are brave folk – who know the cost of
      standing up for their country against its more
      powerful neighbours, be those neighbours Israel or

      There will be few in this country last night – and
      today – and tomorrow – who will not see Ghanem's
      murder as another attempt by the Syrians to destroy
      any form of freedom in this little country. There will
      be equally little proof that shows Syria to blame.

      The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy – not to mention
      Gordon Brown – will not "tut-tut" this outrageous
      killing, but it is only a few days before the Lebanese
      must vote for their next president, and now they will
      have one less member of parliament to vote for that

      And that is what yesterday's massive car bomb was
      about. Mr Ghanem, who was a 60-year-old member of the
      right-wing Christian Phalange Party – founded in
      Lebanon when its leader, Pierre Gemayel, was inspired
      by the Nazi Olympics of 1936 – was the eighth
      anti-Syrian politician murdered since 2005. His
      assassination occurred only six days before parliament
      in Beirut was to elect a new president.

      At least 22 people were wounded in the explosion of
      the bomb which killed him in the capital's Sinal-Fil
      district. It appeared that the car bomb was detonated
      by remote control.

      Ghanem's car was blown at least 150ft away by the
      explosion. One of the pro-government ministers Ahmed
      Fatfat, later said that it was "clear that lawmakers
      from the majority party are being liquidated".

      It was, he said, "The only regime that does not want
      presidential elections in Lebanon to be held. The only
      response to the crime should be for parliament to
      convene on 25 September and to elect the president.

      "Every member who does not take part would be a direct
      or indirect participant in the crime."

      Lebanese parliamentarians, who now take part in a
      bidding for next month's parliamentary elections, were
      outdone yesterday by the former president Amin
      Gemayel, whose son was assassinated last year. "It's
      no more a question of presidential elections," he
      said. "It's a question of the survival of this country
      and democracy in the country that's at stake for the
      time being. This criminal act aims at undermining
      efforts paid by Syria and others to achieve Lebanese
      national accord."
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