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Anti-Syrian Politician Assassinated in Beirut

An anti-Syrian politician was killed in Lebanon on Tuesday when a bomb ripped through his car, two days after parliamentary elections brought victory for an alliance opposed to Damascus' role in the country.

George Hawi, a former leader of the Lebanese Communist Party, died instantly in the blast in the Wata Musaitbi neighborhood of Beirut, witnesses and security sources said.

"After the explosion, the car kept going and then I saw the driver screaming and he jumped out of the window. We rushed to the car and saw Hawi in the passenger seat with his guts out," Rami Abu Dargham, who owns a sandwich shop nearby, told Reuters.

The 400-gram (one pound) charge was under the passenger seat of Hawi's Mercedes and was detonated by remote control, judicial sources said. His driver apparently escaped serious injury.

It was the second killing of an anti-Syrian figure in Beirut this month. Newspaper columnist Samir Kassir was killed on June 2 when a similar explosion destroyed his car outside his home.

The United States said after Kassir's killing it had information about a Syrian hit-list targeting Lebanese leaders. Damascus denied the claim and denounced Hawi's killing.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she did not know who detonated the bomb that killed Hawi, but accused Syria of destabilising its tiny neighbor.

"There is a context and an atmosphere of instability. Syria's activities are part of that context and a part of that atmosphere and they need to knock it off," the top US diplomat told reporters as she flew to Brussels on a tour of the Middle East and Europe.

"This is again like what we have seen before," she said, referring to Kassir's killing.

Syria bowed to global pressure to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April after anti-Syrian protests swept the country following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in a truck bombing in February.

A UN team that visited Lebanon certified that Syria had ended its 29-year military presence. But UN chief Kofi Annan ordered the team back after Kassir's killing amid claims by Lebanese anti-Syrian figures that Syrian spies remained.

UN investigator Detlev Mehlis questioned the head of Lebanon's presidential guard as part of an international probe into Hariri's killing and searched his office and home.

Syria's critics in Lebanon have urged Mustafa Hamdan, the most senior of Lebanon's pro-Syrian security chiefs to remain in power after Hariri's murder, to step down.

More to come?

Hawi's stepson, himself a critic of Damascus, blamed remnants of the pro-Syrian security agencies, though Lebanon's top security chiefs have resigned in recent months.

"The security agencies continue to kill the democrats and are trying to assassinate democracy in Lebanon and the independence uprising," Rafi Madoyan told reporters. "It is not just George Hawi, there are many others on the hit list."

Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud, himself under pressure from some politicians to resign over the killings and explosions that have rocked the country in recent months, denounced the murder and promised to investigate.

Lebanon has asked the United States for help investigating the killing and an FBI team is on the way, a US embassy official said.

"With regard to the persistent suggestion that the president is linked to the so-called security state, everyone knows that he does not directly supervise the security agencies," the presidency said in a statement.

"Is it a coincidence that this crime happens today, a few hours after the end of parliamentary elections which the world saw take place democratically?"

Lebanon's elections were won by an anti-Syrian alliance led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of the slain former prime minister.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a friend of Syria's president, and his interim government stepped down on Tuesday to pave the way for the formation of a new cabinet.

The new parliament will meet for the first time on June 28 to appoint a speaker. It must also nominate a new prime minister to head a cabinet expected to be dominated by critics of Syria. Mikati and Hariri are both frontrunners for the post.

A giant of a man, Hawi, 67, opposed the arrival of Syrian troops early in Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war but later formed an alliance with them against pro-Israeli Christian militias.

Under Hawi, the Communist Party was at the forefront of a left-wing National Resistance movement that fought with Palestinian guerrillas against the Israeli invasion in 1982.

It was Lebanon's main resistance to Israeli occupation before the mid-1980s rise of Shi'ite Muslim Hizbollah, which like the Palestinian factions, condemned Hawi's killing.

Hawi fell out with the Syrians who dominated Lebanon's political order after the war and had been a critic ever since. He did not openly join the anti-Syrian opposition that gained prominence after Hariri's killing, but played an important role behind the scenes, bringing together its disparate members.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies June 22, 2005)

Hariri's Bloc Wins Landslide Victory in Election
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Hizbollah, Allies Sweep S.Lebanon Polls
Int'l Community Condemns Killing of Lebanese Reporter
UN Official Says Situation in Lebanon Remains Fragile
Syria Completes Troop Withdrawal from Lebanon
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