|The assassination of al-Hajj may plunge Lebanon deeper into its political crisis [AFP]|
Lebanon bid farewell on Friday to a senior army commander whose killing has further destabilised the country, still struggling to fill a three-week presidential void.
The country observed a day of national mourning for Major-General Francois al-Hajj as Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, warned Lebanon's leaders that they had a "last chance" to select a new president next week.
A funeral mass was held near the capital Beirut ahead of al-Hajj's burial in Rmeish, his southern hometown on the border with Israel.
Al-Hajj was the first military figure to be killed in a string of attacks that have taken place since 2005.
The cortege drove to Our Lady of Lebanon basilica, in the town of Harissa, north Beirut, where members from across Lebanon's political divide attended the mass.
Cardinal Nasrallah Boutorus Sfeir, the Maronite Christian patriarch, said: "This is a great tragic loss - it is not just about an officer, but about a nation thrown into the wilderness."
According to Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, Sfeir set a measured tone in his address to the memorial service.Al-Hajj had been tipped to replace army chief General Michel Suleiman, whose candidacy for the presidency has been endorsed both by Lebanon's Western-backed majority and the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran.
"He tried to stay away from politics. He did say that al-Hajj was a great officer and that he tried to put as much as possible into the army," she said.
"[Sfeir] said the army is the protector of this country [but] it was interesting that the patriarch stayed away from the political manoeuvring in Lebanon," she said, adding that Sfeir was considered to be frustrated with the failure to agree on a unified political programme for the country.
The murder of al-Hajj and his bodyguard on Wednesday in a car bomb attack came as Lebanon faces one of its worst crises since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23 at the end of his term with politicians unable to agree on a successor.
Sarkozy urged all sides in Lebanon to grab a "last chance" next week to finally elect a president after a series of postponements.
He said: "Monday is really the last chance, and France calls on all parties, inside and outside, to ensure that Lebanon can have a president."
"Those [who] would take the risk of killing off that chance would cut themselves off from a number of countries, first among them France."
A parliamentary session is to be held on Monday to elect a president, but it is widely believed it will be postponed, as has happened on eight previous occasions since September.
European leaders also said that the EU "is greatly concerned about the situation in Lebanon. It considers that the delay in electing the president of the republic is fraught with danger".
They said the EU "joins the United Nations secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] in attempting to convince all parties concerned to endeavour to respect the Lebanese constitutional process".
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies