Residents of the mainly Christian town of Zahle staged angry protests along the international expressway linking Zahle with Baalbek.

 

The protesters denounced the Maronite Christian leader of the Free Patriotic Party, the retired General Michel Aoun, and Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief. They also chanted anti-Syrian slogans.

 

The Kataeb (Phalange) party called on supporters to show self-restraint and foil "attempts to destabilise Lebanon".

 

Condemnation

 

Gemayel is the third Lebanese anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since Rafiq al-Hariri, a businessman and former prime minister, was killed in February 2005.

 

Gemayel was shot as he sat in his car

The Kataeb (Phalange) party was involved Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and has a considerable following among Christians.

 

Ahmed Melli, member of Hezbollah, told Al Jazeera: "We strongly condemn and denounce this killing. It was carried out by those forces who want to harm the future of Lebanon."

 

'Syrian hand'

 

Saad al-Hariri, son of Rafiq al-Hariri and head of the Future Bloc in parliament, said: "Today one of our main believers in a free, democratic Lebanon has been killed. We believe the hands of Syria are all over the place.

 

"Today one of our main believers in a free, democratic Lebanon has been killed"

Saad al-Hariri, son of Rafiq al-Hariri

Send us your views

The Future Bloc is the biggest component of the March 14 coalition of anti-Syrian Sunni Muslim, Druse and Christian parties, the Kataeb being one of them.


Pierre Amin Gemayel was born in 1972 in Bekfaya. 

 

Gemayel was first elected as a deputy in 2000 and was re-elected as an MP in 2005. He was also a member of the Maronite Christian Qornet Shehwan group.

 

The shooting comes amid increased tensions in Lebanon. Shia ministers withdrew from the cabinet two weeks ago in protest over power-sharing in Lebanon's government, and Hezbollah is considering street demonstrations if early elections or a national unity government are not forthcoming.

 

Second attack

 

In a second incident, shots were fired on the office of a Lebanese minister of state, shortly after Gemayel's death.

 

"The office of the state minister for parliamentary affairs, Michel Pharaon, in the Ashrafieh neighbourhood was the target of gunshots today from gunmen in a white Suzuki car," Pharaon's office said.

 

"The security forces cordoned off the area and is carrying out the necessary measures to identify the culprits" who fled the scene.

 

Pharaon is a Greek-Catholic Christian MP from the majority anti-Syrian parliamentary bloc.

 

Geagea's reaction

 

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Samir Geagea, leader of the predominantly Christian-backed Lebanese Forces, said the governing bloc "will not permit a return to the situation that prevailed before March 14 of last year".

 

He noted that Hezbollah and the other parties that he described as co-operating with Syria, were standing in the way the international tribunal for trying the al-Hariri assassination case.

 

He demanded that the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, step down, adding that "the deteriorating situation in Lebanon is only providing political cover to certain parties that want to wreak havoc in Lebanon".

 

For his part, Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and a leader of the March 14 camp, said the UN tribunal for trying al-Hariri's assassination case would ultimately be formed and that the Lebanese should beware of getting embroiled in an internal conflict.