13 December 2005
By Nadim Ladki
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Schools, shops and businesses closed down in Lebanon on Tuesday to mourn anti-Syrian press magnate and legislator Gebran Tueni, whose killing threatened to plunge the country into political turmoil.
Tueni was killed on Monday by a large car bomb in a Christian suburb of Beirut along with three other people in the third political assassination since former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was killed in February.
"Gebran Tueni did not die, an-Nahar carries on," said the frontpage banner headline of Beirut's leading Arabic-language an-Nahar newspaper, published by Tueni.
The 48-year-old Tueni's most fiery criticism of Syria and its role in Lebanon often came in weekly editorials splashed across the newspaper's front page.
Many Lebanese politicians blamed Syria for Tueni's killing but Damascus was quick to deny any involvement. The killing, however, strained the domestic political scene where Syria still has powerful allies.
"Enough...," was the headline of al-Bayrak daily.
Other newspapers were more blunt: "The Syrian security regime assassinates Gebran Tueni," al-Mustaqbal paper headlined.
A large anti-Syrian political grouping met at an-Nahar offices and called for a general strike and a mass turnout for Tueni's funeral on Wednesday.
Huge protests after Hariri's death forced Syria to bow to world pressure in April and end 29 years of military presence in Lebanon.
"We are facing a real state of war ... aiming at preventing the emergence of a (sovereign) state in Lebanon," Christian politician Samir Geagea told LBC television. "It is a war to eliminate Lebanon's nationalist figures..."
Five Shi'ite Muslim ministers close to Syria suspended participation in the government after it voted on Monday night to seek a U.N. investigation into a series of assassinations that have rocked Lebanon over the past 14 months.
A sixth Christian minister loyal to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud also walked out of the session.
SHI'ITES PONDER RESIGNATION
The suspension of Shi'ite participation is the most serious political setback for the five-month-old government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The 24-member cabinet is delicately balanced on sectarian lines and the move leaves the government without participation from the largest sect, the Shi'ites.
The Shi'ite ministers, loyal to Hizbollah and Amal groups, opposed the call for a U.N. inquiry into the killing of Tueni and others, but were outvoted by ministers who campaigned with Tueni for Syria's withdrawal.
The government also called on the United Nations to form a tribunal of an "international character" to try suspects in the killing of Hariri.
A political source said the two groups were considering whether to resign from the government as they were concerned about the rise of security and political involvement in Lebanon of the international community, especially the United States.
Washington views the staunchly anti-Israeli guerrilla group Hizbollah, the only group to keep its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war, as a "terrorist group" and a Security Council resolution demands it disarm.
If the five ministers leave it will be difficult for Siniora to find Shi'ite candidates with wide representation in their community, the source said.
"In security matters there are calls for international investigators ... in the judiciary there are calls for an international tribunal, and in the economy we face similar pressure," Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, a Hizbollah member, told the group's al-Manar television.
"It is not much different from the days of the (French) mandate ... What is next?"
Hundreds of people, including journalists, politicians, supporters and sympathisers flocked to a Greek Orthodox church in the mainly Christian Ashrafiyeh district of Beirut to present condolences to Tueni's family, led by his father Ghassan Tueni, a well respected former minister and diplomat.
Hours after Tueni's murder, a U.N. inquiry team said in an interim report that it had fresh evidence to reinforce earlier findings of Syrian involvement in Hariri's killing and that Damascus had hindered the investigation.
The 15-member Council weighs its response to Mehlis's report at a meeting later on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine)
Reuters via swissinfo