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French Version

Hundreds of thousands bid Gemayel farewell

Siniora presses resigned ministers to rejoin Cabinet

Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora called on six resigned ministers to rejoin the Cabinet Thursday in a bid to defuse political tension paralyzing the country, hours after the country bid farewell to slain Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.

Addressing the nation after a meeting with several members of his Cabinet, Siniora said, "there is an opportunity for us today to unite our stand on many issues that bring us together, including the international tribunal ... which is the only path to revealing the truth behind the crimes that have targeted the Lebanese."

Siniora called on all parties to "resume the national dialogue ... to discuss the differences," hailing the "great role played by Speaker Nabih Berri."

The premier urged the speaker to "maintain the same role that contributed to bringing the Lebanese together in the past."

In a statement issued late Thursday, Hassan Sabaa, the interior minister who resigned in February, responded to Siniora's call, saying that he would return to the government and attend Saturday's Cabinet session.

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun also called for dialogue in an interview Thursday evening with Al-Jazeera television.

In a speech made before hundreds of thousands of mourners

Thursday, prominent March 14 Forces member MP Walid Jumblatt also called for a resumption of the national talks.

Earlier Thursday, international, regional and local dignitaries gathered at St. Georges Cathedral in Downtown Beirut to bid farewell to Gemayel.

French Foreign Minister Philip Douste-Blazy, UN envoy Geir Pedersen and Arab League chief Amr Moussa were among the notable attendees of the funeral for Gemayel and his bodyguard, Samir Chartouni.

The convoy carrying Gemayel's body had made its way through heavy traffic from his mountain hometown of Bikfaya toward the capital.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir flew by helicopter from Bkirki to the cathedral, where he led prayers for Gemayel's and Chartouni's souls.

Sfeir said the Lebanese must "preserve unity and utilize the empathy which the world has shown to Lebanon," to maintain the country's stability, safety and independence.

Pope Benedict XVI condemned Gemayel's assassination in a message read during the funeral. "We are all very moved by this unspeakable act," Benedict said.

"I hope that all Lebanese remain united in these circumstances and that they renew their determination to rebuild an autonomous Lebanon ... where all communities are ensured active participation," he added.

After the funeral service, Gemayel's body was returned to Bikfaya to be buried alongside his ancestors.

As Gemayel's coffin made its way to Bikfaya, March 14 leaders addressed the throngs of supporters with fiery speeches denouncing Syria and its allies in Lebanon.

"They wanted it to be a confrontation, then so be it," Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said, in a reference to Hizbullah and its allies.

"We will not rest until all the criminals are brought to justice," Gemayel's father, former President Amin Gemayel, told the crowds.

Gemayel was killed Tuesday in the Beirut suburb of Jdeideh. The assassins, believed to have used silencers to muffle their shots and a Honda sport-utility vehicle for their getaway, remain at large. The March 14 Forces blame Damascus for the killing.

A source within the Presidential Palace said President Emile Lahoud had no comment on the speeches made after the funeral, nearly all of which called for his resignation.

"The president has loads to say in response to the wrongful accusations, but he will not speak in honor of death and the late minister," the source said. "When the time is appropriate, the president will reply."

Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek, a member of Hizbullah's Shura Council, said that "the aim behind the assassination [of Gemayel] was to pressure the opposition ministers into retracting their resignations.

"The authority is handling [national] security, why don't they reveal the assassins or take precautions?" he asked.

Aoun said that Gemayel's assassination "was being utilized as a means" against his and other opposition parties

"We have nothing to fear and we demand a quick investigation to reveal the [identity of the] assassins," he added.

Beirut 24-11-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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