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Lebanon mourns minister amid growing crisis

Story Highlights

• NEW: Lebanon begins three days of mourning for Pierre Gemayel
• Gemayel's killing draws widespread international condemnation
• U.N. approves international court on Rafik Hariri slaying in 2005
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Crowds of people snaked through the streets of Pierre Gemayel's Christian hometown to mourn the Lebanese industry minister suspected by his supporters of being assassinated by those intent on weakening Lebanon's anti-Syrian government.

Gemayel's coffin was carried somberly on Wednesday through the streets on Lebanon's independence day, a day normally filled with cheer, as the country began three days of mourning.

"We are like all Lebanese, we are all very sad. We have to stay crying and looking for the truth," a member of the crowd told CNN's Brent Sadler in Bikfaya. ( Watch aftermath of the slaying -- 4:10)

Lebanese political leaders have called for demonstrations after Gemayel's funeral, set for Thursday. Lebanese security forces stood on high alert throughout the capital and in Bikfaya, which is just outside Beirut.

Gemayel, 34, a rising politician from a prominent political family, was shot to death in his car in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut Tuesday.

His death has sparked an outcry from his fellow anti-Syrian politicians, who immediately blamed Damascus for the killing. It has also deepened the crisis surrounding Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government.

Gemayel's killing came amid a power struggle between Siniora and pro-Syrian factions, led by the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, over the creation of a U.N.-backed tribunal to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"They might try to kill another minister, it's very possible and plausible," Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said Wednesday. "And they might kill other members of parliament ... so as to reduce the majority in parliament."

Jumblatt outwardly accused "the Syrian regime" for both crimes because "it doesn't want the Lebanese people and Lebanon to be free, independent and to be safe and prosperous."

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Jumblatt said, "knows that a single individual in Syria is involved in these crimes."

Syria has denied any involvement and condemned Gemayel's killing.

President Bush on Wednesday called Siniora and Gemayel's father, former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, to express his condolences.

Bush also reiterated to Siniora "the unwavering commitment of the United States to help build Lebanese democracy, and to support Lebanese independence from the encroachments of Iran and Syria." according to a statement from White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Britain and the U.N. Security Council condemned the killing, with Security Council members calling on all parties to show "restraint and a sense of responsibility" in the crisis.

At the same time, the council moved to finalize plans for the Hariri tribunal, authorizing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to make arrangements with the Lebanese to establish the court.

U.N. investigators have linked Hariri's killing to Syria and its allies in Lebanon, which Damascus dominated for a quarter-century. The Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah -- whose militia fought a month-long war against Israel over the summer that left much of Lebanon in ruins -- pulled its four ministers from Siniora's government last week to protest his support of the tribunal.

The remaining 18 ministers unanimously backed the court's establishment, over the objections of Hezbollah and Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. But a second vote on the tribunal was coming within days, said Saad Hariri, the son of the slain ex-premier and now the majority leader in Lebanon's parliament.

Hariri immediately blamed Damascus for Gemayel's death, telling CNN: "The hands of Syria are all over the place."

"Pierre Gemayel was one of the people who was one of the founders also of the revolution," Saad Hariri said. "And today, as we have warned the international community that our revolution is under attack."

The elder Hariri's killing led to a wave protests, dubbed the "Cedar Revolution," that resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Lahoud called Gemayel's killing a "sad day" for the country. But he told his citizens: "All Lebanese must stand united. Otherwise, the whole of Lebanon will be the loser."

'Martyr to freedom'

Gemayel's father was president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988. His uncle, Bashir Gemayel, was elected president but was assassinated before he could take office in 1982.

Gemayel's grandfather and his namesake founded the Christian Phalange party, of which he was a leading member.

Authorities said a man with a gun ran up to the car Gemayel was riding in Tuesday afternoon and opened fire, hitting him at least twice in the head and neck. Lebanese television broadcast video of the bullet-riddled car.

Amin Gemayel called his son a martyr to the cause of freedom, but said, "We don't want vengeance."

He, too, said he suspects Syria in his son's death.

"We know Syria killed my brother, Bashir, in 1982 and we have proof of that, but have no proof with Pierre," he said.

"So there are many fingers pointed at Syria because it's the same method, the same mechanism. And Syria has a revenge to extract against Lebanon since its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, especially how the withdrawal was conducted. So perhaps it was settling an account with Lebanon."

The United States has worked to support Siniora and pressure Syria, which Washington accuses of meddling in its war in Iraq. Bush called for a full investigation of Gemayel's assassination and urged the Security Council to move ahead with an international tribunal to prosecute the Hariri case.

CNN's Brent Sadler contributed to this report.


Mourners carry the Lebanese flag-draped coffin of assassinated Lebanese minister Pierre Gemayel.

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