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Tensions rise as lawmaker is buried in Beirut

The Baltimore Sun

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Family, friends and party loyalists gathered yesterday to bury Walid Eido, a 65-year-old anti-Syrian lawmaker assassinated with his son and eight others in a bombing on Beirut's waterfront the previous day.

Flanked by 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 crowd of Sunni Arabs at the mosque greeted the coffins with applause, chants and whistling.

"The Sunni blood is boiling," youths yelled, with taunts directed at 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, alleging that the assassination was an attempt to destabilize Lebanon, a frail country once dominated by Syria. While Eido did not enjoy the kind of broad popularity of other slain notables, his killing heightened sectarian tensions and sent angry Sunnis into the streets of Beirut on Wednesday night.

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

Yesterday 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 his bodyguards were laid to rest after noon prayers.

In the crowd, some Lebanese government agents wore hand-me-down U.S. military shirts, with 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 party who is also the son of the slain 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 Murabetoun, a Sunni militia. Eido, a former judge and an outspoken critic of Syria, was a member of that militia during the country's 15-year civil war that 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 a day of mourning in Lebanon. In the capital, soldiers kept watch over nearly empty streets yesterday as many residents left for the beach or the mountains.

The city nonetheless has been gripped by tension because of several recent bombings 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 three-week fight has claimed the lives of at least 63 soldiers, 50 militants and an unknown number of civilians.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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