Tens of thousands of Lebanese gathered to bid farewell to an assassinated young Christian politician yesterday, and his anti-Syrian allies turned his funeral into a powerful show of force against opponents led by the militant Shiite Muslim Hezbollah and their Syrian backers.
The coffin of Pierre Gemayel, wrapped in the flag of his Phalange Party -- white with a green cedar emblem -- and the Lebanese flag was brought from his hometown and carried through applauding throngs in downtown Beirut to St. George's Cathedral, where the packed congegration sang hymns.
In a rare move, the head of the Maronite Church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, left his mountain headquarters to lead the funeral service, in which family and dignitaries, including France's foreign minister and the Arab League secretary-general, participated. The country's top Shiite politician, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a top Hezbollah ally, also attended.
Nearby Martyrs' Square was packed with tens of thousands of men, women and children, waving red, white and green Lebanese flags. Some carried posters with pictures of Gemayel, with the words "We want to live" and "Awaiting justice" written on them.
Gemayel, 34, was killed Tuesday when two cars blocked his vehicle at an intersection as he left a church and assassins shot him numerous times through a side window. His driver also was killed.
He was the sixth anti-Syrian figure killed in Lebanon in two years, including former prime minister Rafik Hariri who was slain in a massive bomb blast in Beirut in February last year.
The rally, as expected, turned into a display of anti-Syrian feelings among mourners, and many burned pictures of Syria's president and Lebanon's pro-Syrian leaders. One man carried a large banner with the pictures of Lebanon's assassinated leaders and the words: "Syria's killing regime. Enough!"
Much of the anger was directed at President Emile Lahoud, a staunch Syria supporter, and ralliers held signs calling for his removal.
Lahoud was at the presidential palace, where heavy security measures were taken amid fears that protesters would later march there to attempt to force him to resign.
Anger also was pointed at Hezbollah, which had been calling for mass protests of its own in a bid to topple Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government.
Gemayel supporter Joseph Hanna said he came to yesterday's rally to convey a message of support for the government and its struggle against Hezbollah.
"If they have 30,000 rockets, we have 30,000 words. They do not scare us," the 45-year-old car rental shop owner said in reference to Hezbollah's weapons.
Gemayel's coffin was taken yesterday from the family home through the town of Bikfaya amid the applause of mourners, the firing of guns in the air and the toll of church bells. Then the coffin began its journey to Beirut, stopping in towns along the way to be briefly greeted and carried by supporters.
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