BEIRUT, Lebanon – Family, colleagues and supporters marched Friday in a mass funeral procession for a slain Lebanese lawmaker, the latest victim of a campaign the country's anti-Syrian faction accuses Damascus of orchestrating to scuttle the upcoming presidential election.
A brass band played the anthem of killed lawmaker Antoine Ghanem's political party as hundreds of mourners carried flags while they walked down a packed street in a Beirut neighborhood.
Women ululated with their tongues as Ghanem's coffin, draped in the Lebanese and Phalange Party flags, and the caskets of his driver and bodyguard, who also were killed in Wednesday's bomb blast, were held above people's heads as they marched.
Schools and universities across the country as well as some businesses in Christian areas of Beirut and in Mount Lebanon, a region north and east of the capital, were closed for a second day Friday as the government called for a day of national mourning.
Wednesday's car bomb killed Ghanem, 64, and six others in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut. He was the seventh anti-Syrian personality and fourth anti-Syrian lawmaker killed in Lebanon since 2005.
Government supporters accuse Syria of seeking to eliminate U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's small majority in parliament by killing off lawmakers in his coalition, which now holds 68 seats to the opposition's 59. The U.S. government condemned the attack and the U.N. Security Council demanded an immediate end to targeted killings of Lebanese leaders.
Ghanem's assassination threatened to derail efforts to bring the country's rival parties together to agree on a president before a two-month election period begins Tuesday in the deeply divided parliament. Lebanese leaders from all factions have pledged to press ahead with the election despite the latest killing.
Ghanem's body was driven Friday morning in a black hearse from a hospital a few blocks from where he was killed to his district of Furn el-Chebbak where it stopped outside the offices of the Phalange Party, the Christian political group to which he belonged. There, the casket was met by supporters and family members who marched to a Maronite Catholic church for the funeral service under heavy security.
Men and women on balconies waved party flags as patriotic songs played from loudspeakers. On the street festooned with white ribbons, women, dressed in black, wept and waved handkerchiefs in a sign of grief. Others carried pictures or waved Phalange Party flags — white with a striped Cedar tree in the middle. Some unleashed fireworks and threw rose petals.
Party members, in khaki pants and beige T-shirts, marched to martial music. Scouts carried wreaths, and many held banners such as "We Won't Kneel."
As the coffins arrived at the church, applause broke out and the church bells tolled. Inside, majority leaders joined Cabinet ministers and Ghanem's family for the service.
The Phalange Party was the main political group with a military arm during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. In November, another Phalange Party member, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was killed on a Beirut street.
There had been hopes the upcoming presidential vote could break a 10-month-old political deadlock between Lebanon's pro-Western government and pro-Syrian opposition factions led by the militant Hezbollah group. But that hope diminished with Ghanem's death.
President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria, is due to step down from the presidency Nov. 24, and government supporters see the vote as a chance to put one of their own in the post. But Hezbollah and its allies vow to block any candidate they do not approve.
Many Lebanese fear the division over the presidency could lead to the creation of two rival governments — a grim prospect for Lebanon, which suffered a bloody civil war from 1975 to 1990.
Majority coalition members have blamed Syria for the latest assassination, but Damascus denied involvement, as it has for the previous seven assassinations, including the 2005 bombing death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.