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Journalist's murder rattles Beirut

Samir Kassir, known for his staunch anti-Syrian views, was killed in a car bombing Thursday.

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Samir Kassir, one of Lebanon's leading journalists and a prominent anti-Syrian campaigner, was killed when his car exploded Thursday, stunning a country that had begun to believe that recent violence was finally over.

The shock of Mr. Kassir's death, four months after former Prime Minister Rafki Hariri was assassinated, is a stark reminder of Lebanon's perilous stability as it emerges from Syrian domination into an uncertain era of independence.

Although no one had claimed responsibility for the blast at press time, Lebanese opposition figures were swift to blame Syria and its Lebanese allies.

"Bashar al-Assad and Emile Lahoud are behind it," insists senior opposition leader Marwan Hamade, referring to the Syrian and Lebanese presidents, respectively. Mr. Hamade narrowly survived an assassination attempt last October.

"Samir Kassir was a defender of democracy in the Arab world and a courageous journalist who confronted dictatorships, especially the joint dictatorship established by Lebanon and Syria," he adds.

Rafik Shelala, spokesman for President Lahoud, called Kassir's murder "a grave incident," and said the president had ordered an investigation. "It's better not to make accusations until the circumstances are uncovered," Mr. Shelala told Al Arabiya satellite channel.

Kassir's death came just four days after Lebanon embarked on a round of key parliamentary elections that are expected to seal the end of Syria's domination of Lebanon. Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon at the end of April after the death of Mr. Hariri triggered mass anti-Syrian protests.

The opposition is set to triumph at the polls, which conclude on June 19, and will probably form the basis of the next government.

The pro-Syrian camp has withered following Damascus's disengagement from Lebanon. Some opposition figures have called for the resignation of Lahoud, Syria's most faithful ally in Lebanon, as the first order of business following the creation of a new government after the elections. Kassir's death is likely to strengthen that demand.

With Syrian troops gone and the Lebanese intelligence services undergoing a purge of its pro-Syrian chiefs, many Lebanese are asking what could be gained from acts of violence against opposition figures.

But Chibli Mallat, a Lebanese law professor and democracy campaigner, says that Kassir's murder fits an unfolding pattern of repression that has been seen in Syria over the past two weeks.


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