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Anti-Syrian Lebanese Minister Shot Dead
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Lebanese Industry Minister and Christian leader Pierre Gemayel was shot dead on a street in the suburb of Beirut on Tuesday, the Lebanese Interior Ministry said.

Saad Hariri, the parliament's majority leader and son of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, prematurely ended a televised press conference and confirmed the news, al-Jazeera said.

According to reports by Arabia TV, the minister received a gunshot to the head when his convoy was attacked in Jedeide, about 15 km northeast from Beirut.

Gemayel was rushed to hospital but died of his wounds, said the report.

The 34-year-old Gemayel was a Christian leader in Lebanon and son of former president Amin Gemayel as well as a firm supporter of the anti-Syrian parliament majority.

The crisis took a sharp turn for the worse after the cabinet, without the Syrian-backed ministers, approved the UN draft document creating an international tribunal in the case of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's killing.

This infuriated opposition parties who called for the government's resignation.

Meanwhile the anti-Syrian ruling parliamentary majority has accused Hezbollah and Amal, the main pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Shiite groups, of doing Damascus and Tehran's bidding and seeking to undermine the formation of the tribunal.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora said at a press conference that the murder of the anti-Syrian minister "will not terrorize us" and "we will not let criminal killers control our fate."

The prime minister called for unity in the deeply divided country and pledged that his government will take up all its responsibilities to protect the interests of the people.

The Gemayel assassination "increases our determination to see the creation of the international tribunal" to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri, said Seniora.

Meanwhile, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud called on the Lebanese people to unite and begin dialogue to overcome the political stalemate.

Lahoud described the killing of Gemayel as "a conspiracy that started with the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri."

Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, also a prominent anti-Syrian figure, was killed in a suicide bombing in February 2005, which led to rising anti-Syrian waves and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker, said the murder of Gemayel was an action against the Lebanese state and government carried out to undermine the country's stability and security. Berri also expressed his deep condolences to the family of the deceased, vowing to do all he could to hunt down those behind the killing of Gemayel and other Lebanese officials.

In addition, Lebanese Sunni Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rasheed Qabbani also denounced the assassination of Gemayel.

"The assassination of Pierre Gemayel amid circumstances of tension and defiance currently being observed in the country was a severe blow to all those who wished that the situations could not reach to this extent," he said.

Describing Gemayel as one of Lebanon's national figures, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, a Christian opposition leader, also denounced the assassination crime.

Gemayel was the fifth anti-Syrian figure to be killed in the past two years.

Lebanon has witnessed a series of blasts since Hariri's death in February 2005 The most recent assassination was the killing of journalist Gebran Tueni on Dec. 12, 2005.

Also on Tuesday, the UN Security Council unequivocally condemned the murder of Gemayel and held an emergency meeting in the afternoon at Lebanon's request.

In a presidential statement read out by its President for November, Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, the Council condemned "any attempt to destabilize Lebanon through political assassination or other terrorist acts."

"The council is gravely concerned by this assassination and its possible impact on ongoing efforts by the government and people of Lebanon to solidify democracy, extend the authority of the Lebanese government throughout its territory and complete the reconstruction process," the statement said.

The council members called upon all parties in Lebanon and the region as a whole to show restraint and a sense of responsibility with a view to preventing any further deterioration of the situation in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the council requested the UN Secretary-General to continue to follow closely and report regularly to the council on the situation in Lebanon.

Syria on Tuesday strongly denounced the assassination of Gemayel, the official SANA news agency reported.

"This horrible crime is aimed at destabilizing solidity and civil security in Lebanon," an official media source was quoted as saying. The source also underlined "Syria's keenness on Lebanon's security…as well as keeping Lebanon's civil peace", SANA said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 22, 2006)

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