Throwing rose petals and waving red, white and green Lebanese flags, hundreds of mourners lined the streets of central Beirut yesterday for the funeral procession of an anti-Syrian journalist, amid calls for an international investigation into his death.
Samir Kassir, a 45-year-old newspaper columnist, was killed Thursday by a bomb that exploded under his car in the Christian Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh. Lebanon's opposition, which blamed Syria and its local allies for the killing, asked government officials not to attend the funeral.
More than 2,000 people watched as Kassir's coffin was carried from the offices of his newspaper, An-Nahar, in Beirut's downtown Martyrs' Square, by pallbearers including the newspaper's director-general, Gibran Tueini. Mourners threw rose petals on the coffin as it made its way to a nearby Greek Orthodox church for Kassir's funeral.
Among mourners was Kassir's wife, Giselle Khoury, a journalist with Al-Arabiya television, who had demanded an international investigation into her husband's death. Kassir held French and Lebanese citizenship.
Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition, which has demanded for months that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud resign, called for demonstrators to gather near the presidential palace tomorrow.
Opposition leader Elias Atallah said the protesters would lay a wreath "that clearly points to the direct responsibility of this security regime."
Lahoud has condemned the killing of Kassir.
Syria pulled all its troops out of Lebanon in April after three decades, and Lebanon is in the midst of a four-round parliamentary election that the anti-Syrian opposition hopes will end Damascus' control of the legislature.
European parliamentarians Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Carlos Carnero, both members of a European mission to monitor Lebanon's elections, strongly condemned Kassir's killing. In a statement, they said the assassination was an "attack against the freedom of speech of the Lebanese people, especially against the background of the parliamentary elections being held."
On Friday, some 200 journalists and politicians -- many holding black pens to symbolize freedom of expression -- stood for an hour in Martyrs' Square in silent tribute to Kassir, as bells tolled in nearby churches.
Opposition spokesmen blamed Syria for the assassination -- a charge Syria strongly denied -- and accused Damascus of continuing to interfere in Lebanon's politics.
The White House said Friday it wants the UN to expand its inquiry into the February killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to include the death of Kassir.
"We strongly condemn the brutal assassination of Mr. Kassir. He was a prominent journalist who long advocated Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in Crawford, Texas, where US President George W. Bush is spending the weekend at his ranch.
"This heinous act was clearly an attempt to intimidate the Lebanese people and undermine their efforts to build a free and democratic future. I think it reflects an environment of political repression created by Syria's long military and intelligence presence inside Lebanon."
In further pressure, French President Jacques Chirac called UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and said France wanted Lebanon "to bring those guilty to justice," said Chirac's spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.