Lebanese Leader's Funeral Prompts Protests

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Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese cabinet minister killed this week in Beirut, will be buried Thursday. Gemayel supporters have called for a massive turnout for his funeral. They say he was killed for his anti-Syrian views, though Syria denies involvement.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This is the day that Lebanon is burying one more of its political leaders. Pierre Gemayel is the Lebanese cabinet minister killed this week in a Beirut street. And if that story sounds familiar, it's because it's the latest in a string of political assassinations. Gemayel's supporters turned out in masses for his funeral and they say that he was killed for his anti-Syrian views. Syria has denied involvement. Let's go now to NPR's Peter Kenyon, is in Beirut.

And Peter, what have you seen on the streets today?

PETER KENYON: Well, the body of Pierre Gemayel made the trek down from the village Bikfaya, his home village, and is now back there following a very public funeral and rally right next door at Martyr's Square. The funeral was at St. George's Cathedral, presided over by the Maronite patriarch who very rarely leaves his home on the mountains, people say.

But afterwards a number of the VIPs and dignitaries went over to Martyr's Square and addressed a very large crowd, estimated in hundreds of thousands in Martyr's Square. And the message there was fairly defiant, talking about defending the government against attack by the opposition, which is led by the Shiite Hezbollah movement and not giving up in the face of either protests or assassinations.

INSKEEP: And just to be clear on who's on what side, and I know that is unclear in some cases, you have Lebanon's government, which has been installed just in the last year, year and a half, and you have Hezbollah, which has allied with Syria, and Syria is being blamed for this assassination. What was the mood of people on the streets as the coffin itself was carried through?

KENYON: The mood was part grief and part defiance, as I say. A lot of people brought up what may seem like a rather technical issue, this international tribunal that was just approved by the United Nations to try suspects if and when they're brought forward in the case of the killing of another leader, Rafik Hariri. That has to come back now to this very embattled and barely holding on government for approval. And these people here today were saying that they want to do whatever they can to make sure that it is approved and that the suspects are brought to justice.

INSKEEP: Peter, this government still faces some of the same problems that it had before the killing. Are people concerned about what happens next?

KENYON: They're very concerned about it. We just went through the issue of the Hariri tribunal. That is going to be the order of business for the next two weeks, at least because one of the things they might need is the signature of the pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahud. And how they get that is anybody's guess at this point. Plus there's the even more urgent question of keeping this government in power from the government's side, and perhaps from the opposition's side the need to topple it.

Hezbollah and the allies that it has on the opposition side will be staging their own demonstrations and they'll be doing everything they can to bring the government down, they say, through peaceful means. But in Lebanon, what happens one day can lead to worst things the next, as we've seen over and over again.

INSKEEP: Okay. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Beirut. Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome Steve.

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