Another anti-Syrian Lebanese politician assassinated.



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Car bomb kills Lebanese MP
Slaying comes one day after return from exile in Paris

Opposition leaders vent rage at Syria for wave of attacks
Dec. 13, 2005. 10:13 AM
MITCH POTTER
MIDDLE EAST BUREAU

AMMAN-Lebanese opposition figures are pleading for international protection
against a wave of assassinations that yesterday claimed charismatic
newspaper publisher Gibran Tueni, a scathing critic of Syrian interference
in Lebanese affairs.

Tueni, 48, a third-generation owner of the leading Beirut political daily
An-Nahar and a recently elected parliamentarian, was killed in a car-bomb
attack on the outskirts of the capital, just one day after returning from
self-imposed exile in Paris. He fled Lebanon in August, claiming his name
had been discovered by Lebanese prosecutors atop a "death list" of
assassination targets.

His slaying came just hours before the release of a new United Nations
report that pointed again to the involvement of senior Syrian intelligence
figures in the Feb. 14 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik
Hariri.

The report's author, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is expected to call
for a six-month extension of the probe in a presentation today to the UN
Security Council in New York.

Several Lebanese opposition leaders last night vented rage against Syria,
calling its leadership directly responsible for the killing of Tueni and a
string of assassinations of anti-Syria journalists and political figures in
Lebanon.

"Anybody who denounces Syrian hegemony will be killed by (Syrian President)
Bashar al-Assad's regime," Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, president of the
Progressive Socialist Party, told CNN International.

"Times are changing. This (Syrian) regime must change. ... This guy in
Damascus is sick. If he stays, we won't have stability in the Middle East."

Syrian officials denied any hand in the attack on Tueni, saying the timing
of the bomb, coinciding with the new Mehlis report, suggests a deliberate
attempt to discredit Syria.

"Syria denounces this crime that claimed the lives of Lebanese, irrespective
of their political stances," Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah
told Lebanese television channel LBC.

"Those who are behind this are the enemies of Lebanon."

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told reporters in Beirut he was pained
and angered by the slaying.

"The criminals are killing one after another, but we will not succumb no
matter what the price," he said.

Samir Khalaf, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut and
a close friend to Tueni, told the Toronto Star he was devastated by
yesterday's attack.

"I spoke to him a few hours after he returned. I can't even speak, I'm so
upset," said Khalaf.

"The real question now is who will protect small countries like ours from
being taken hostage? We cannot do it alone."

He said he hoped the United States and European countries "will do much
more."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned Tueni's slaying as a
"vicious act of terror."

"I am outraged by the assassination," said Rice, describing Tueni as a
Lebanese patriot and a voice of freedom.

"That voice will not be silenced. America will remain steadfast in its
support of the Lebanese people," she said in a statement.

Tueni was killed after a parked car packed with 40 kilograms of TNT exploded
as his motorcade passed in the industrial suburb of Mkalles, flinging his
armour-plated vehicle and several other cars into a ravine, Associated Press
reported. Tueni's driver and a passerby were also killed. Thirty people were
wounded in the bombing, which shattered store windows and incinerated at
least 10 vehicles.

Yesterday's attack was not Tueni's first encounter with political violence.
The prominent newspaperman once told the Star his longstanding criticism of
Syria had earned him two bullets, two imprisonments and one kidnapping, all
of which he survived.

Tueni, a Christian, was one of the most prominent Lebanese figures to
galvanize popular street demonstrations demanding an end to Syrian military
occupation after the killing of Hariri. The protests won international
backing and ultimately forced Damascus to withdraw soldiers and intelligence
officials in April, bringing to an end 29 years in Lebanon.

But the so-called "Cedar Revolution" unravelled after Lebanese parliamentary
elections in May, with the anti-Syrian coalition giving way to the familiar
but complex sectarian power-broking that has long defined Lebanese politics.

American University professor Khalaf, calling Tueni's death the most
momentous loss since that of Hariri, expressed hope the latest assassination
will trigger a revival of the unity Lebanon enjoyed last February.

"Just as the assassination of Hariri unified Lebanon, perhaps this tragedy
can also bring us together. This is our hope," said Khalaf.


.



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