BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Lebanese opposition stepped up calls for pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud (search) to resign Wednesday after the assassination of an anti-Damascus critic, the second such killing in three weeks. The opposition also called for a strike during his funeral.
Former Communist Party leader George Hawi (search), 67, was killed by explosives placed under his car seat that detonated as he was being driven in Beirut on Tuesday. His killing came as the anti-Syrian opposition prepared to take power after winning a parliamentary majority in the staggered elections that ended Sunday.
Opposition figures quickly blamed the assassination on Syrian agents and their allies in the Lebanese security services, as they did the June 2 slaying of anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir (search) and the Feb. 14 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search).
They have singled out Lahoud as the main pro-Syrian holdover and highest ranking politician responsible for the security system still in place.
Following a meeting Tuesday night, opposition members said Hawi's assassination was part of a "terrorist" sequence of events that began last September with the extension of Lahoud's six-year presidential mandate by another three years. That extension was largely seen as imposed by Syria in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that called for presidential elections to be held and for Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon.
Hariri's assassination triggered street protests and international anger that forced a Syrian troop pullout in April and increased calls on the president to step down.
"This series of events, whose first chapter began by extending the mandate of the president, the real president of the security and intelligence regime, will not end before all the effects of the extension are removed," the opposition said in a statement after the meeting.
They called for "the highest possible turnout" for Hawi's funeral on Friday, and a general strike that day.
Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt also called for Lahoud's removal and a purge of security agencies. "We cannot have a semi-change with half measures. Either we have a full change or we don't," he said.
Michel Aoun, an opposition leader who recently broke with the main coalition of anti-Syrian forces, warned against drawing conclusions ahead of the investigation.
"Not every time a person is hit, Baabda is to be blamed," he said, referring to the presidential palace.
Lahoud has condemned the killing and distanced himself from the security services, saying he is not directly responsible for them as the opposition has claimed.
Hawi had been a fixture of Lebanon's recent history. A voice of militant communism in the early days of the 1975-90 civil war, a strong ally of Syria and a leader of anti-Israeli guerrillas during the 1980s, the white-haired Hawi became in recent years an outspoken critic of Syrian domination.
"These are not random killings. These are targeted assassinations of political figures," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. "Syria's long and continued presence inside Lebanon has created an environment of intimidation and political repression."