Car Bomb in Beirut Kills Prominent Syria Critic

Gebran Tueni, a prominent Lebanese legislator and newspaper publisher known for his vocal criticism of the government of neighboring Syria, dies after a car bombing in Beirut. Tueni was killed Monday shortly after returning to Lebanon from France.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

He was a lawmaker, newspaper publisher and a vocal critic of the government of Syria. Today Lebanon's Gebran Tueni was killed in a massive explosion in Beirut. Tueni's death took place as United Nations investigators said there's new evidence to suggest Syria's involvement in another killing, the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

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DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

The bomb was so powerful it destroyed the armored car that Gebran Tueni thought could protect him as he rode to the office. The blast sent the burned-out vehicle crashing down the hill. The explosion came during morning rush hour from the Christian area of East Beirut.

(Soundbite of explosions)

AMOS: The shock waves shattered car windows and storefronts blocks away. This is the 15th bombing in less than a year that has targeted mostly Christian areas and anti-Syrian politicians and journalists in Lebanon.

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Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Radio news stations recounted the list of those killed or maimed for Lebanese, who already knew the names, but could not believe it had happened again.

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Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Gebran Tueni, elected to Parliament in June, was better known as the publisher of the liberal newspaper Al-Mahar. He was a fierce critic of the Syrian regime. For years, he wrote editorials against Syrian dominance of Lebanon. After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Tueni was a speaker at the mass demonstrations. The street protests combined with international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon after a 29-year stay.

Tueni's supporters were quick to blame Damascus for his death. The most outspoken: Walid Jumblat, head of the Druse community who rarely leaves his home because he believes he is targeted, too.

Mr. WALID JUMBLAT (Druse Community): Gebran Tueni were one of the forefront people to denounce the Syrian terrorist regime of being behind the killing of Hariri, and I do support him. This is why they killed him.

AMOS: As news spread of the assassination, people began to gather outside Tueni's newspaper office. Some waved Lebanese flags and made way for dignitaries who came to the newspaper building to pay their respects. A group calling itself Strugglers for the Unity and Freedom of the Levant claimed responsibility for the killing. Syrian officials condemned Tueni's death and denied any involvement. But Sharinamar Bushmara(ph), a student who wore a Lebanese flag like a shawl, had already made up her mind.

Ms. SHARINAMAR BUSHMARA: We already know that the Syrians are doing it, but no one's telling the truth until now, so we're just here to reject all the assassinations that are happening.

AMOS: Marwan Hamadeh, a Cabinet member and Tueni's uncle, threatened to resign if the government did not demand an expanded international investigation and an international tribunal for those involved in the Hariri murder. Hamadeh survived an assassination attempt last year. He is convinced Syria is behind the violence.

Mr. MARWAN HAMADEH (Lebanese Cabinet Member): ...that Bashar Assad and his band of organized crime--criminals are behind all this list of crimes.

AMOS: Even Tueni's political enemies came to pay last respects, but with anti-Syrian feelings running so high, some were booed by the crowd.

The assassination came hours before details of the latest UN report on the Hariri murder became known. The report calls on Syria to arrest suspects named by UN investigators which include top Syrian security officials. Tonight Lebanon's prime minister called an emergency Cabinet meeting to hammer out agreement on a request for an international tribunal. Some pro-Syrian Cabinet members had resisted the proposal, but another assassination in the capital and the public reaction could be rare unity to Lebanese politics. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.

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