Christian Politician Gunned Down in Lebanon

The murder of a prominent Christian politician in Beirut raises tensions in Lebanon. Pierre Gemayel was the Minister of Industry and the son of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel. His father is calling for calm and prayer.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Lebanon there are new fears of violence and political instability after today's assassination of an influential member of the country's government. Pierre Gemayel was gunned down in a suburb of Beirut. He was a member of a well-known Christian political family and just the latest in a string of anti-Syrian politicians and journalists killed. Syria denies having anything to do with today's attack, which has thrown Lebanon's Christian neighborhoods into despair. Coming up, analysis of what this killing means for Lebanon's future.

First, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on the events today in Beirut.

PETER KENYON: Things in Lebanon were already tense enough. Six cabinet ministers had resigned from the fragile coalition government, stripping it of Shiite representation. Then the Shiite Hezbollah movement told its followers to prepare for street demonstrations aimed at toppling a government Hezbollah considers unconstitutional.

But for many residents of Beirut, those shocks paled beside seeing their former President Amin Gemayel standing mournfully outside St. Joseph's Hospital calling for a night of peace and prayer because another family member had been slain. Amin's brother Bashir Gemayel was assassinated in 1982, shortly after winning the presidency during Israel's invasion of Lebanon. His niece Mya was also killed, and now his son.

Mr. AMIN GEMAYEL (Former President, Lebanon): (Through Translator) Today Pierre was martyred for a cause. I ask all those who loved Pierre and believed in his mission to protect that cause and not to act without thinking. We don't want acts of revenge.

KENYON: The current majority leader in the Parliament, Saad al-Hariri, was giving a news conference when he learned of the killing. Hariri rose to power on a wave of anger at the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. U.N. investigators have said evidence implicates Syria in that killing and Saad al-Hariri immediately accused Damascus of having a role in Pierre Gemayel's murder as well.

Syria condemned the killing, as did Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. Syrian officials also slammed what they call the tendency to blame Syria for every vicious act in Lebanon.

Outside the hospital, Bashara(ph) Gemayel stood with other grim-faced family members. Their feelings are raw, not least because they helped raise Pierre while his father, Amin, was in exile in France.

Bashara says he heard Amin Gemayel calling for calm and prayer, but he has his doubts.

Mr. BASHARA GEMAYEL: It's a disaster because this man, he did not hurt anybody. His father was in France for 10 or 11 years. We made him a man here. We made him an influential man. It means this country has a black, black future.

KENYON: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, another strongly anti-Syrian politician, vowed that the government would carry on, especially regarding the U.N. proposal for an international court to try suspects in the Hariri killing.

But with six cabinet ministers already resigned and now another murdered, the loss of just two more would render the current government unconstitutional and talks of forming a new one are at an impasse. Lebanese are wondering which will resume first, political dialogue or the street confrontations that have been the spark of so much bloodshed here.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.

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