Heavy security ahead of Lebanon politician funeral

AFP , Sunday 29 Dec 2013

A policeman photographs the site of a bomb blast, which killed Lebanon's Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah, in downtown Beirut December 28, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Heavy security measures were in place Sunday around Beirut ahead of the burial of Mohammad Chatah, a prominent Lebanese critic of the Syrian regime, killed in a bombing two days ago.

Chatah, 62, a Sunni Muslim former finance minister and close aide to ex-prime minister Saad Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in the Lebanese capital on Friday along with six other people.

Dozens of other people were wounded in the blast, which officials said involved about 50-60 kilograms (110-132 pounds) of explosives.

President Michel Suleiman has declared Sunday a day of national mourning, and several army vehicles were stationed around Beirut's downtown area, where Chatah was killed.

Cars have been forbidden from parking along main roads in the area during the funeral.

Chatah was seen as an influential figure in the March 14 coalition, which is opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its Lebanese ally, Shiite movement Hezbollah.

He is due to be interred at the mausoleum of Hariri's father Rafiq, who was also killed in a huge suicide bombing on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005, an assassination his supporters blamed on Syria.

The March 14 coalition has called for a high turnout at the funeral service, which will take place at the Mohamed al-Amin mosque next to Hariri's mausoleum.

Friday's attack revived painful memories of bombings that rocked the country between 2005 and 2012, targeting prominent figures critical of Damascus.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but March 14 implied Damascus and Hezbollah were behind it without naming them, saying in a statement that "the criminal is the same, he who is thirsty for the blood of Syrians... he and his Lebanese allies."

Syria has denied the "wrong and arbitrary accusations," while Hezbollah said the bombing was aimed at destroying "national unity".

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