Funeral Turns Into Anti-Syrian Protest

The funeral for a leading newspaper editor slain in a car bomb turned into a massive protest against Syria on Wednesday, drawing more than 100,000 Lebanese who blamed Damascus for the latest in a string of politically motivated killings.

Tens of thousands of flag-waving mourners marched behind the coffin of anti-Syrian campaigner Gibran Tueni as it snaked through the streets of Beirut. Thousands more, including mourners and political activists, gathered in two plazas as the procession passed by. Shouts of "Syria out" intermingled with patriotic music and the national anthem.

A general strike to mourn Tueni brought the country to a halt, closing banks, businesses and schools.

Police, who would not speak on the record because of the political sensitivity, estimated more than 100,000 people turned out for the funeral and the demonstrations. But other witnesses and observers said the turnout may have been as high as 200,000.

Tueni, the general manager and chief columnist of Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper and an outspoken critic of Syria, was killed by a car bomb Monday as he was being driven to work in Beirut. He was the fourth anti-Syrian figure to be killed since a series of politically motivated 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.

Hundreds of Lebanese troops and police took up positions 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 and colleague of Tueni.

"We are here to say, no matter how many of us they kill, there will always be others to speak out," said 23-year-old Hiyam Dayekh, a Muslim university student. "We are not afraid."

Asked who was behind Tueni's killing, Dayekh replied: "Do you need to ask this question? It's 100 percent the Syrians."

The protest and funeral was by far the largest gathering since one million people took to Lebanon's streets on March 14 to demand Syria give up its hold on Lebanon at the peak of the drive to end Syria's dominance.

The funeral procession began in the Beirut district of Ashrafieh, which Tueni represented in parliament. The pallbearers rocked the coffin, a traditional sign of deep grief, as they walked slowly along several miles of streets lined with mourners. The procession passed through Gibran Tueni Square, named after Tueni's grandfather, who founded An-Nahar newspaper in 1933.

Some lit fireworks, and 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. Thousands more men, women and children — families and political activists — waved Lebanese flags and held Tueni's picture, or those of Hariri and another An-Nahar journalist killed in a June bombing.

Many shouted slogans against Syria, its President Bashar Assad and his Lebanese ally, President Emile Lahoud. Lahoud has rejected the anti-Syrian majority's calls for him to step down after Syria withdrew its army from Lebanon in April.

Thousands gathered outside the Parliament and the St. George Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, applauding and blowing whistles as the coffins made their way through the crowd. The church bells tolled in mourning.

Tueni's daughter, Nayla, building on her father's call for Muslims and Christians to stay united to serve Lebanon, said: "An-Nahar will not die. Lebanon will not die. Freedom will not die. This is the pledge of loyalty to Gibran."

In a special session of parliament, legislator Akram Shehayeb said: "The equation is clear. He who gives orders is in Damascus. The executioner is here in Beirut."

The strike called by anti-Syrian groups 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 regions where pro-Syrian groups are dominant, the strike call was ignored.

Leading anti-Syrian politician Walid Jumblatt called Tuesday for Assad's regime to be changed.

"This time this regime should change," 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."

Earlier this week, the chief U.N. investigator into the Hariri assassination told the U.N. Security Council the latest evidence strengthened his conviction that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials were implicated. Syria has denied involvement in Hariri's killing.

France, at Lebanon's request, circulated a resolution in the Security Council that would broaden the scope of the U.N. investigation to include all the politically motivated killings in Lebanon since October 2004.