Atul Aneja

Gemayel's supporters denounce Syria, Iran and Hizbollah

DUBAI: The funeral of assassinated Lebanese Transport minister Pierre Gemayel on Thursday acquired strong political overtones as a crowd of several thousands denounced Syria, Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah.

Huge crowds had assembled at the Martyr's Square in central Beirut, near the St. George Cathedral where the funeral ceremony was held. Saad Hariri, who lost his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in an assassination, had called upon people across the country to attend the funeral in a "show of support for freedom and independence." Mr. Hariri is the leader of the March 14 Forces, a pro-American group having wide support among Lebanon's Sunnis, section of Christians and Druze communities.

It played a leading role, which led to the exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April 2005. Many in the crowds stamped on the portraits of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and his Syrian and Iranian counterparts, Bashar Al Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Slogans were also shouted against Hasan Nasrallah, leader of Hizbollah, which Syria and Iran support. Amid calls from supporters for revenge, Amin Gemayel, a former President and father of the slain politician, appealed for calm. Syria has staunchly denied any involvement in the crime. Hizbollah officials said their group would not take any action because of the emotionally charged situation. However, they accused the anti-Syrian camp of politicising the assassination for its benefit. Earlier during the day, Gemayel's body was brought to the Beirut cathedral from his hometown of Bikfaya.

Dozens of cars and buses followed the cortege, waving the large white flags of the Maronite Christian Phalange Party, to which Gemayel belonged.