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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 16:25 GMT
Crowds mourn Lebanon politician
Gemayel's assassination came in the middle of a political crisis

Large crowds have greeted the coffin of assassinated Lebanese Maronite Christian politician Pierre Gemayel after its arrival in his home village.

Supporters carried the coffin through Bikfaya, east of Beirut, at the start of three days of mourning.

There is tight security in the village and across the country ahead of the politician's funeral on Thursday.

Mr Gemayel, the industry minister and a leading anti-Syrian figure, was shot in his car in a Christian area of Beirut.

Those who killed him don't want the Lebanese to unite, anything after this is going to make things worse
Fadi Jalakh

Many people in Lebanon blame Syria for the killing, although Damascus has denied any involvement and condemned the assassination.

Mr Gemayel, 34, was the fifth anti-Syrian Lebanese politician to be killed in the past two years.

His killing on Tuesday came at a time of crisis in Lebanese politics.

Last week, Lebanon's cabinet endorsed plans to set up a tribunal to try those suspected of killing former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri despite the resignations of six pro-Syrian ministers opposed to it.

Woman carries a poster of Pierre Gemayel in Beirut
Pierre Gemayel was one of a young generation of politicians

A UN report recently implicated Damascus in the killing of Hariri by a truck bomb in Beirut in February 2005. Syria denies the charges.

The Security Council approved the plans for the tribunal on Tuesday. The Lebanese government will now be asked to approve it formally.

Bursts of gunfire

Bells tolled and a huge crowd of mourners accompanied Mr Gemayel's coffin to the mountain village of Bikfaya.

There was sombre applause from the crowd as the body passed.

Feb 2005: Former PM Rafik Hariri
June 2005: Anti-Syria journalist Samir Kassir
June 2005: Ex-Communist leader George Hawi
Dec 2005: Anti-Syria MP Gebran Tueni
Nov 2006: Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel

Women threw rice from balconies onto the coffin, which was draped in the striped flag of his Phalange party, and there were occasional bursts of guns fired into the air.

As a priest said prayers at the Gemayel family home, the minister's friends and family wept over his coffin.

Mourners filed past, offering condolences to his father, former President Amin Gemayel.

"It's an indescribable feeling," mourner Fadi Jalakh, 27, told Reuters news agency.

"Those who killed him don't want the Lebanese to unite. Anything after this is going to make things worse."

Mr Gemayel's supporters have called for a mass turnout at his funeral, and there is a large military presence both in the village and in Beirut.

Independence Day celebrations that were due to take place on Wednesday have been cancelled throughout the country.

'Syrian encroachment'

The politician died after at least three gunmen ambushed him, ramming his car with their vehicle before spraying it with gunfire from point blank range.

The killing brought a swift reaction from world leaders, many of whom also offered backing for the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

MARONITES are Christians affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church. 800,000-900,000 live in Lebanon, roughly 25% of population. Current patriarch is Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir. Lebanon's constitution requires that the president is Maronite
PHALANGE (Kataeb in Arabic) is a Lebanese political party advocating Maronite interests, and dominated by the Gemayel family. Its militia was a major player in the civil war

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the assassination.

"Faced with the dark forces who are trying to destroy the country, I invite all Lebanese to not let themselves be vanquished by hate but instead to try to re-forge national unity, justice and reconciliation and to work together to build a future of peace," he said.

US President George W Bush on Wednesday telephoned Mr Siniora to offer his condolences and support.

Mr Bush reiterated "the unwavering commitment of the United States to help build Lebanese democracy and to support Lebanese independence from the encroachment of Iran and Syria," a US spokesman said.

President Bush had earlier called for a full investigation to identify "those people and those forces" behind the killing.

Syria's official SANA news agency condemned the murder as "a crime aimed at destabilising Lebanon and disturbing the civil peace in the country".

There was also condemnation of the killing from Iran and from the Hezbollah, the Shia Muslim Lebanese political and militant group.

Supporters carry the coffin of Pierre Gemayel

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