Beirut- In the first hours after his son was killed this week, Amin Gemayel led the calls for restraint. Violent acts of revenge, he said, would dishonor the memory of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, who had been gunned down in broad daylight on a Beirut street.
But yesterday, Lebanon's normally reserved ex-president let his anger out, asking a crowd of several hundred thousand mourners who gathered in the centre of Beirut to join him in what he called a "second independence intifada." The aim, Mr. Gemayel said, would be to free Lebanon once and for all of Syrian influence, beginning with the current pro-Syrian President Émile Lahoud.
Lebanon's larger neighbor, Mr. Gemayel believes, is behind the killing of his son and four other pro-Western political figures assassinated in the past two years.
"The second independence intifada was launched today for change, and we won't stop until it is complete," he shouted, his voice breaking with emotion but drawing cheers from a massive flag-waving crowd that filled the city's central Martyrs' Square. "Change begins at the head. We want a new president in Lebanon."
Speaking from behind a bulletproof shield, Mr. Gemayel said he and his fellow pro-Western leaders would lay out their plan for ousting Mr. Lahoud in the coming days. Some in the crowd responded with the chant "We want revenge -- from Lahoud and Bashar," referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Others mocked Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a Shiite militia supported by both Iran and Syria.
The uprising Mr. Gemayel and his allies are plotting is a peaceful one, but tensions are already near the breaking point between the country's pro- and anti-Syrian groups.
Shiite demonstrators upset with insults directed against Mr. Nasrallah took to the streets in Beirut's southern suburbs last night, leading to near-violent confrontations with pro-Western Sunni Muslims.
In February, 2005, the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri sparked a massive popular uprising that brought down the pro-Damascus government and forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year stay. The uprising, known in the West as the Cedar Revolution, is referred to locally as the Independence Intifada.
But Damascus has retained influence in Beirut through the loyalist Mr. Lahoud and through Hezbollah. Many Lebanese also believe that Syria's intelligence service still operates here, and is responsible for the string of assassinations.
Now, pro-Lebanon leaders are hoping to recapture the momentum they had following Mr. Hariri's death, and to push out Mr. Lahoud. Eventually, they also want to see Hezbollah, the last armed militia in a country still recovering from the 1975-1990 civil war, give up its weapons. While Mr. Lahoud is a Maronite Christian, as are some of his supporters, Hezbollah is made up almost entirely of Shiite Muslims, while the pro-Lebanon camp features Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze.
"1559, 1680, 1701: What don't you get?" read a large banner set up on Martyrs' Square, referring to a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for Hezbollah to disarm.
It was a message embraced by many in the crowd, which filled Martyrs' Square and many of the surrounding streets in scenes that recalled the joyous uprising of a year ago.
But where the Cedar Revolution was remarkable in Lebanon's history for the unity on display -- Christians and Muslims all protesting under the country's cedar-tree flag -- yesterday's demonstration was notable for its factionalism. The national flag was popular, but so were the banners of the various Christian and Muslim factions taking part.
And while the crowd was large, it was smaller than some of those seen in the spring of 2005. Hezbollah's television station, al-Manar, mocked the turnout, suggesting that it proved the majority in fact now sided with Mr. Nasrallah.
A new push to oust Mr. Lahoud before next year's presidential election is likely to worsen a standoff between the pro-Western and pro-Syrian forces that many were already worried could disintegrate into another civil war.
Before Mr. Gemayel's killing, Hezbollah had been planning to bring hundreds of thousands of its own supporters into the streets yesterday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his pro-Western government. Those protests were postponed, but late last night, hundreds of Shiite supporters of Hezbollah blockaded the road to Beirut's airport, protesting "insults" against Mr. Nasrallah.
Groups of men on motorbikes, some waving Hezbollah's yellow flag, swirled near the entrance to the Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Shatila. Several threw rocks at a nearby mosque, prompting a crowd of Sunnis to surge forward carrying sticks. The Lebanese army quickly intervened, but it does not appear that the anger will disappear any time soon.
"They're taking advantage of the blood of the late minister," said Nidal al-Mawla, a doctor in a nearby Shiite neighborhood who gathered with relatives to watch the news on television. He accused the pro-Western forces of trying to provoke Hezbollah into a fight. "Today, the mask is off. All of them work for the United States," he said of Mr. Siniora and his coalition.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Nasrallah made a personal appeal for calm among his supporters. "I urge them to leave the streets; more than urge, I beg them to leave the streets. We don't want anyone on the streets at all," he said in a telephone call to al-Manar.
"If they go to the streets, we'll go to the streets," said Tariq Fathallah, a 26-year-old Sunni Muslim businessman who attended the pro-Western rally outside Mr. Gemayel's funeral. "We don't have any weapons. They have weapons. But we're not afraid."
In a sign of how deep the division between the two sides is, Mr. Gemayel ignored Nabih Berri, the Shiite ally of Hezbollah and the Speaker of parliament, when he arrived at the funeral. Mr. Gemayel embraced Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who sat to Mr. Berri's right, then walked wordlessly past Mr. Berri to embrace Mr. Siniora, who sat to his left.
Picture: Former president Amine Gemayel ( Father of the slain minister Pierre Gemayel) center , surrounded by LF leader Samir Geagea ( L) and parliament majority leader Saad Hariri. The angry father of the slain minister called for a second Independence Intifada to get rid of the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud
By: MARK MACKINNON
Source: The globe and mail
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