Lebanese town tense after deadly shooting

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Lebanese town tense after deadly shooting

Post by Admin on Thu Apr 24, 2008 2:20 pm

The
Lebanese town of Zahle observed an official day of mourning amid
tension on Monday, with political leaders trading blame after two
activists were shot dead at the opening of a Phalange party
headquarters.


Funerals
for Nasri al-Maruni and Salim Assi, whose son was among three people
wounded in the Sunday evening attack, are planned for Tuesday.


Both Assi and al-Maruni were supporters of the Christian Phalange party, a member of Lebanon's ruling coalition.

Police
named a suspect in the shooting as Joseph Zouki and said they had
launched a manhunt for him. He is thought to be a supporter of Zahle MP
Elie Skaff, a Christian who backs the opposition.


Security
sources in Zahle said that they were also looking for Zouki's brother,
Toni, who they suspect was with him at the time of the shooting.


A
security official on Monday said Walid Zouki, a relative of Joseph, had
turned himself in to the police. Although he was not an initial suspect
"he seems to have had a role" in the crime, the official said.


Phalange
leader and former president Amin Gemeyel called the incident a
"premeditated act" in an interview on the LBC television channel.


He
accused the assailants' "leaders of knowing full well where they are
and what they need to do to turn them into the authorities".


Gemeyel
held "the leaders of the opposition responsible" for the act and
slammed "Christian leaders of covering up an obvious terrible plot to
spark divisions and ignite a war" in alluding to what his coalition
identifies as a Syrian plot to destabilize Lebanon.


The
former president's son Sami Gemeyel had just left the headquarter
inauguration at the time of the shooting. Another son, industry
minister Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated in November 2006.


Skaff
rejected Gemeyel's accusations and told AFP that this was an "isolated
act" and that he would "not provide protection for the assailants."


Intense
security measures have been taken in the eastern town with all cars
being searched at checkpoints in the search of Zouki and his brother, a
security official said.


"The
security services have conducted several operations and raids where the
person responsible for the attack could have taken refuge," the
security official said.


Lebanon's
general prosecutor Abdallah al-Bitar has arrived in Zahle to conduct an
investigation, an AFP correspondent in the area said.


The deaths come amid Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanon's
Syrian- and Iranian-backed opposition refuses to recognize the
legitimacy of the Western-backed cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora
since its six ministers quit nearly 18 months ago.


The
wrangling has left Lebanon without a head of state since last November
when pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his
mandate.


There
have been 17 attempts to gather MPs to elect a president but every
single one has failed. The next session, planned for Tuesday, is
unlikely to take place as a political agreement between the two sides
has not been reached.


Picture:
Policemen outside a political party headquarters in the eastern
Lebanese town of Zahle. Zahle is observing an official day of mourning
amid tension a day after two activists were shot dead at the opening of
a Phalange party headquarters.
(AFP/Joseph Barrak)


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