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French Version

Syria accused after bomb kills journalist Kassir

Lebanese opposition blames Damascus and calls for Lahoud to resign over death of anti-Syrian writer

Lebanon's opposition blamed "Syria and its allies" for the killing of Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, one of the Assad regime's most vocal critics who was murdered in a car bomb while leaving his home.

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The United States also condemned Kassir's assassination and hinted Syrian involvement. U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said: "We look at what he has been writing for years on the front page of An-Nahar and we know who his enemies must be."

The assassination comes in the middle of Lebanon's first parliamentary elections being held free of Syrian control in almost 30 years, and only one month after Syria, under pressure form the international community, withdrew its troops from the country.

Security sources said Kassir was killed shortly before 11:00 a.m. when his light grey Alfa Romeo exploded seconds after he got into the car.

The sources estimate that half a kilogram of TNT had been planted under Kassir's car seat. They also said the explosion was triggered by remote control.

Kassir's body lay slumped to one side inside the blasted car wreck. Kassir, 45, wrote a regular front-page column in Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper known for its anti-Syrian stance.

He has also published four books, two of which criticize Syria's role in Lebanon and the oppression of public freedoms in Damascus.

Florist Adel Hassan, perhaps the last person to see Kassir alive from his shop across the street said: "I saw him walk out of his building carrying his blazer over his shoulder. I saw him go into his car, and the bomb went off."

Kassir was also a prominent member of the newly founded Democratic Leftist Movement, which was allied to the wider opposition movement which called for an end to Syrian dominance in Lebanon.

Lebanon's opposition launched a strong attack on Syria and Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, accusing both of having a hand in the murder, a charge Syria and Lahoud denied.

Leader opposition figure and Druze MP Walid Jumblatt said: "Samir Kassir was murdered by the remnants of the security agencies that control the country and that are headed by Emile Lahoud."

He added: "As long as the serpent's head is in Baabda, the assassinations will continue."

A statement from the official Syrian news agency said: "An Information Ministry official absolutely rejected the assertions made by certain Lebanese involved with news and politics who, as is their habit, accused Syria of perpetrating the explosion in Beirut only minutes after the incident."

It added: "This shows the extent to which these people harbor hostile thoughts toward Syria."

President Emile Lahoud, who visited the Journalist's Union to pay his condolences, said: "On my first day in office I pledged not to allow journalists to be imprisoned, even if they criticize me. I meant what I said then and I still mean it now. Lebanon cannot survive without freedom."

Chaotic scenes surrounded the blast site as people gathered and vented their anger.

Speaking at the blast scene, An-Nahar general manager and opposition MP Gebran Tueni said: "The Syrian regime is responsible from head to toe for this horrific terrorist crime. Lebanon's opposition should close ranks again to have every Syrian intelligence cell left behind in Lebanon ruthlessly smashed."

Tueni also singled out Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said: "Bashar Assad should not be allowed to have a single intelligence operative lingering in Lebanon."

Kassir, who also lectured at the Saint Joseph University and published four books about Lebanon and the region, regularly condemned shrinking freedoms in Syria and the performance of the Syrian Baath regime.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati vowed from the bombing scene that his government "will not allow anyone to target security and freedom."

Kassir's assassination is the last in a series of bombings that have rocked the country and plunged it into its worst crisis since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War.

The assassination also comes as a UN team is investigating the February 14 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 20 others and triggered the independence drive that forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon.

Chouf MP Marwan Hamade, who was targeted by a car bomb late last year, said: "His blood will not go to waste. It will trigger a new momentum and rid Lebanon and the Arab world from this gang."

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Beirut 03-06-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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