Lebanese majority resolute on vote

March 14 bloc says assassination of Antoine Ghanem will not derail presidential vote.

    The blast in Beirut killed at least five people and
    wounded scores of others [AFP]

    Members of the March 14 coalition have called on Lebanese people to publicly show their disapproval of the assassination.
    Relations strained


    Deaths feed mutual
    distrust in Lebanon

    Ghanem's assassination, which killed five other people, came as Lebanese deputies were beginning preparations to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud, Lebanon's president and a pro-Syrian figure.
    The latest attack has been blamed on neighbouring Syria, but Damascus has denied any involvement, saying the bombing was a "criminal act" aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon.
    Relations between parties within the March 14 bloc and Syria have remained poor since Damascus pulled its troops and security forces out of Lebanon in April 2005.
    The evacuation of Syrian forces came two months after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister and critic of Syrian influence in Lebanon.
    Hezbollah, the main party in Lebanon's pro-Syrian opposition, said the assassination was "a blow to the country's security and stability as well as any attempt at reconciliation".

    Bombing condemned


    The United Nations and several foreign governments have condemned the car bombing.


    Antoine Ghanem is the eighth anti-Syria figure
    assassinated in the last three years


    "The security council reiterates its condemnation of all targeted assassinations of Lebanese leaders ... and demands an immediate end of the use of intimidation and violence against the representatives of the Lebanese people and institutions," said a non-binding statement by the UN Security Council which was approved by all 15 members.


    Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, has urged the UN to investigate Ghanem's murder as part of its investigation into similar murders of anti-Syrian figures.
    In the aftermath of the attack on Wednesday, rescuers pulled corpses from blackened and mangled cars while some were still ablaze.


    Two of the MP's bodyguards were among the dead, Ghanem's daughter Mounia said.


    Ghanem, 64, a lawyer, had been a member of parliament since 2000, and was a key member of the Phalange party led by Amin Gemayel, a former president.


    Gemayel's own son, Pierre, the former industry minister, was killed last November.


    Syria blamed


    Members of the March 14 bloc have accused Syria of being behind a string of political assassinations and attacks since October 2004.


    The March 14 bloc of parties is widely considered to be against any Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. 


    The blast is the latest in a string of attacks
    blamed on Syria and their proxies [AFP]

    Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said on Thursday, that the March 14 bloc was preparing to issue a statement blaming Syria.


    The bloc announced that Ghanem's funeral would be held on Friday. A general strike has been called on Thursday.


    The education ministry said all schools and universities will remain closed on Thursday and Friday.


    Fearing for his life, Ghanem had fled into exile following the assassination in June of another anti-Syrian, and only returned to Lebanon on Sunday.


    Ghanem was the eighth member of the anti-Syrian majority to be assassinated since the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister killed by a car bomb in early 2005.


    Ghanem's death has reduced the bloc's majority in parliament to 68 members out of the now 127-member house, with numbers set to play a key role in the presidential vote later this month to replace Emile Lahoud, the current pro-Syrian head of state.


    "This is an attack aimed at sabotaging all efforts to reach a solution to the current political crisis," Butros Harb, an MP and presidential candidate, said.


    "You cannot separate this killing from the presidential election."


    Conspiracy alleged
    The killing comes three months after Walid Eido, another March 14 MP, died in a bomb blast in central Beirut.
    Wael Abu Faour, a Druze MP, said on Wednesday: "Syria wants to prevent the majority from remaining a majority by assassinating its members.
    "Syria wants to prevent the majority from electing a president from among its ranks."
    Nayla Moawad, the Lebanese minister of social affairs, told Al Jazeera: "It is clearly an attempt to diminish the number of members of parliament from the majority and of the March 14 Forces.
    "It proves that there is a mainstream, led by Iran and Syria, against Lebanese sovereignty.
    "It is the end of any dialogue. We will not dialogue with murderers and we will not dialogue on the blood of our martyrs."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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