|Thousands pay respects to family of slain Gemayel
|Grieving mother: 'they riddled him with bullets. they tore him apart'
Church bells tolled Wednesday morning as the body of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was brought home ahead of his funeral Thursday.
The coffin was driven from the St. Joseph Hospital in Dora to his hometown of Bikfaya, northeast of the capital. Hundreds of weeping mourners led by former President Amin Gemayel, the slain minister's father, and his family, walked behind the coffin, waving the white-and-green flags of Gemayel's Phalange Party.
"God be with you, groom," the crowd shouted. "God be with you, hero."
"Pierre is alive inside us," others shouted.
"What can I say? They killed the hero of heroes. They are killing Lebanon's dream. The suspicion points toward Syria," said Rizkallah Gemayel, 45.
There was a heavy police and army presence in Bikfaya and many of the Christian neighborhoods of Beirut.
"How long in this country are criminals going to force fathers to bury their own sons?" one mourner muttered after Gemayel's body was taken inside the family home.
Lebanon's former first lady, Joyce Gemayel, wept as she stood by her son's coffin. "They riddled him with bullets. They tore him apart," she sobbed.
The coffin of Gemayel was draped in the Phalange flag.
Gunshots were fired into the air as the crowd marched behind the pallbearers along streets daubed with pictures of the slain minister.
"Those who killed my father have struck again, but they will not succeed in killing Lebanon," said Gemayel's cousin Nadim, 24, son of President-elect Bashir Gemayel, killed in 1982.
Upstairs, Gemayel's bereaved father Amin, who served as president of Lebanon from 1982-88 after his brother's assassination, received well-wishers. In a televised interview with Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., Gemayel reviewed his son's brief career.
The former president received condolence telephones calls from US President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdel-Aziz and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Among those paying their respects in Bikfaya were March 14 Forces figures, former premiers Salim Hoss and Rashid Solh and a parliamentary delegation from the Amal Movement.
Gemayel said neither Hizbullah nor President Emile Lahoud had called or sent representatives to pay their respects.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, an ally of Hizbullah, said in a separate interview that Gemayel's family told him "circumstances were not appropriate for his visit."
However, Aoun urged his supporters to participate in Gemayel's funeral, which is expected to be followed by a massive demonstration organized by the March 14 Forces.
A Hizbullah spokesperson said the party had issued a statement condemning the assassination, adding "paying condolences is a normal duty and it will take place if not today, tomorrow. Timing is a small detail."
Resigned Agriculture Minister Talal Sahili, a member of the Amal delegation, said the latest murder of a national figure was aimed at "sabotaging Lebanon's internal situation and weakening national unity."
"The assassins want to drive Lebanon into the unknown and prevent officials from reaching solutions to the current political deadlock," Sahili added.
Arab and foreign diplomats were also among those to pay their respects Wednesday, including US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, who held a closed-door meeting with Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in Bikfaya.
MP Ghassan Tueni, whose son Gebran was assassinated last December, and prominent TV presenter May Chidiac also traveled to the mountain town to pay their condolences.
A massive portrait of the slain journalist has adorned the side of the Beirut headquarters of his An-Nahar newspaper since Tueni's killing. Gemayel's has now been raised alongside it, both bearing the words: "Martyr for Lebanese independence."
The Daily Star