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French Version

Suleiman pays tribute to 'hero,' vows army has many more

Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman made a condolence visit to the family of slain Brigadier Francois Hajj on Wednesday, paying tribute to the LAF's chief of operations as a hero who was always ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.

"No one should use the blood of the martyr for political ends or raise doubts in the abilities of the military establishment. This establishment is a hundred times stronger than it was before," Suleiman said. "While the army lost one of its biggest heroes, the martyr Francois, there are a thousand Francois in the army and they are entrusted with the unity of Lebanon and are up to the task."

A meeting of Christian members of the March 14 alliance at the Phalange Party headquarters in Saifi condemned the assassination of Hajj, which fell on the second anniversary of the slaying of MP Gebran Tueni. Former President Amin Gemayel, who read out a statement at the end of the meeting, said it was not surprising that the killing of Hajj followed the nomination of Suleiman for the presidency which had been hindered by "external and internal parties."

"We affirm that this crime will not terrorize the Lebanese people and will not prevent us from continuing out struggle to achieve the goals of the independence intifada and reactivate constitutional institutions most important of which the presidency which we will not allow to remain vacant," Gemayel said.

The statement reaffirmed the nomination of Suleiman to the presidency and called on Speaker Nabih Berri to immediately call for a special session of Parliament to pass necessary constitutional mechanisms to allow Suleiman to be elected.

A visibly shaken MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Reform and Change bloc, addressed reporters at his home in Rabieh, condemning the slaying of Hajj, whom he described as a "steadfast military leader" who was "courageous in the field and wise in his decisions."

Aoun, a personal friend of Hajj and his nominee to succeed Suleiman as army commander, said "words cannot express the intensity of emotion we feel today," extending condolences to Hajj's family, the army and the Lebanese people on the "huge loss."

"Is it logical that an entire government has not managed to arrest a single culprit?" he asked. "This is the 18th assassination attempt. Today the target is the biggest security force in Lebanon."

He also questioned how the attack could have taken place in a "protected area" like Baabda, seat of Lebanon's presidency

"The fact it happened in that area indicates that the crime was protected," he said. "We want to know who protects it."

Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri also condemned the slaying.

"This crime is a link in the chain of terrorist attacks targeting the country and its institutions, including the national army, which today pays the price of defending Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and free decision," he said in a statement released by office.

Hizbullah denounced "the heinous and criminal assassina-tion" and urged the Lebanese people "to rally around the army and work seriously to build a political agreement."

Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt deplored the

assassination and urged the opposition to meet the ruling coalition "half-way" to elect a consensus president for the country's sake. "The void is in no one's interest," he added.

Beirut 13-12-2007
The Daily Star

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