Thousands march in Tueni's funeral

Beirut, but not pro-Syrian regions, respect the strike called to mourn editor.

tueni 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
tueni 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Thousands of flag-waving Lebanese, Christians and Muslims, bid farewell to their leading newspaper editor Gibran Tueni, marching behind his coffin on Wednesday in a display of anger against Syria that has been blamed for the car bombing which killed him on Monday. A general mourning strike, which was called for Tueni, was widely respected, with banks, businesses and schools closing their doors for the day. Hundreds of Lebanese troops and police took up position in a central square where, on March 14, about a million people heard Tueni call for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. "Everyone who takes to the street is saying 'enough killing,'" said Ghenwa Jalloul, a legislator colleague of Tueni. An outspoken critic of Syria, Tueni was killed by a car bomb Monday as he was being driven to work through an industrial suburb of Beirut. He was the fourth anti-Syrian figure to be killed since the series of bombings began in February with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A previously unknown group has claimed responsibility for the blast that killed Tueni, two bodyguards and wounded 30 other people. But Tueni's colleagues and political allies have blamed Syria, which has denied involvement. In the Beirut district of Ashrafieh, which Tueni represented in parliament, several thousand people marched behind his coffin, and those of his bodyguards, wrapped in the national flag of red and white stripes with a green cedar tree in the middle. Some marchers carried olive branches, expressing a yearning for peace in Lebanon. The pallbearers rocked the coffin, a traditional sign of deep grief, as they walked slowly along several kilometers of streets lined with mourners. The procession passed through Gibran Tueni Square, named after his grandfather who founded An-Nahar in 1933. Some people lit fireworks, others applauded as the marchers passed. At An-Nahar's offices in the city center, a giant portrait of Tueni hung down the side of the building. Men, women and children - families and political activists - waved Lebanese flags and held Tueni's picture. Many shouted slogans against Syria and its president, Bashar Assad. In a special session of parliament, tributes came even from Tueni's political opponents. "The glory is yours," said speaker Nabih Berri, who recalled the editor as a person "fond of arguing." The leader of the Hizbullah bloc, Mohammed Raad, said Tueni was a man of "courageous word and uncompromising position." A legislator ally of Tueni, Akram Shehayeb, told the assembly: "The equation is clear. He who gives orders is in Damascus. The executioner is here in Beirut." The strike that anti-Syrian groups had called in mourning for Tueni was observed not only in Beirut, but also in the southern provincial capital of Sidon and in the mountains of central Lebanon. However, in eastern Lebanon, where pro-Syrian groups are dominant, the strike call was ignored. The opponents of Syrian influence in Lebanon are counting on the public anger over Tueni's killing to flex their muscles and close ranks in the face of what they see as a Syrian threat to kill their leaders one by one. Leading anti-Syrian politician Walid Jumblatt call Tuesday for President Assad's regime to be changed. "This time this regime should change [and] should be tried," Jumblatt told CNN in the first such call by a prominent Lebanese politician. "This guy in Damascus (Assad) is sick. If he stays, we won't have stability in the Middle East." But Jumblatt later toned down his remarks, telling Lebanon's LBC television: "I do not interfere in the affairs of that regime." The strike in Beirut came a day after the UN Security Council heard the chief UN investigator into the Hariri assassination say the latest evidence strengthened his conviction that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials were implicated. Syria has denied involvement in Hariri's killing. France circulated a resolution in the Security Council that would broaden the scope of the UN investigation to include all the attacks in Lebanon since October 1, 2004. Co-sponsored by Britain and the United States, the draft resolution seemed to deflect the Lebanese government's request for an inquiry into Tueni's killing and an international tribunal for the suspected killers of Hariri. If passed, the resolution would ask Sec.-Gen. Kofi Annan to consult Lebanon on "the nature and scope" of the needed assistance and report back.