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Sunnis turn out in force for Lebanese lawmaker's funeral

Walid Eido, a critic of Syria, was killed by a bomb with nine others.

June 15, 2007|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

BEIRUT — Family, friends and party loyalists gathered Thursday to bury Walid Eido, a 65-year-old anti-Syrian lawmaker assassinated with his son and eight other people in a bombing on Beirut's waterfront the day before.

Flanked by slick secret service agents speaking into their sleeves, the funeral procession passed billboards with images of the Lebanese politician and his son, and the words: "The men of justice, the martyrs of justice." Volunteers from Eido's Future bloc put up the posters overnight and spent the morning distributing party flags.

A dense crowd of Sunni Muslims at the mosque greeted the coffins with applause, chants and whistling.

"The Sunni blood is boiling!" youths yelled out, with taunts directed at Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the Shiite Muslim leader of the radical Hezbollah movement. "Nasrallah is the enemy of God."

U.S.-backed politicians blamed the killing of Eido on Syria, charging that the assassination was an attempt to destabilize Lebanon, an already frail country once dominated by Damascus. Although Eido did not enjoy the broad popularity of other slain notables, his slaying heightened sectarian tensions and sent angry Sunnis into the streets of Beirut on Wednesday night.

Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, in a similar bombing a few miles farther up the coast, Lebanon has suffered political instability, sectarian tensions and a significant economic downturn.

On Thursday morning, hundreds of people, most of them relatives and political party volunteers, walked from a posh Sunni neighborhood to a Sunni mosque where Eido, his son Khaled and one of the lawmaker's bodyguards were laid to rest following afternoon prayers.

In the crowd, some Lebanese government agents wore hand-me-down U.S. military shirts, the Army Airborne insignia showing underneath their black vests.

"With our blood, with our soul, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saad Hariri," the mourners chanted, following the black sport utility vehicle with tinted windows carrying the leader of the Future bloc, who is the son of the slain former prime minister.

At the mosque, Lebanese internal security forces stood guard on the roof. Some of the young Sunni men, wearing Dolce & Gabbana T-shirts and Limp Bizkit caps, waved black flags in support of the Murabitoun, a Sunni militia. Eido, a former judge and an outspoken critic of Syria, was a member of that militia during Lebanon's 15-year civil war, which cost the lives of at least 150,000 people.

Two other anti-Syrian lawmakers have been killed since 2005, including Cabinet member Pierre Gemayel, who was gunned down in November. That killing led to street fights between Sunnis and Shiites in Beirut.

The government declared Thursday a day of mourning in Lebanon. In the capital, soldiers kept watch over almost empty streets as many residents left for the beach or the mountains.

The city nonetheless has been gripped by tension because of several recent bomb attacks and an ongoing battle between Lebanon's ill-equipped army and a relatively small group of Sunni militants holed up at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north. The nearly monthlong battle, which has become the bloodiest internal fighting since the end of the civil war in 1990, has led to the deaths of at least 63 soldiers, 50 militants and an unknown number of civilians.

Since the fighting began May 20, it has been difficult for aid groups and journalists to get access to the Nahr el Bared refugee camp, and so there are no reliable estimates of the civilian casualties.

Special correspondent Raed Rafei contributed to this report.

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