Lebanese politicians and thousands of mourners turned out Friday for the funeral of MP Antoine Ghanem, whose assassination has raised tensions in the runup to a key presidential vote.
"Lebanon's soil has been drenched with the blood of our martyrs, but those who wish evil for Lebanon, who will not stop until they are deterred, will be deterred," vowed former president Amin Gemayel, fighting back tears, as he addressed mourners packed into the Sacred Heart church east of Beirut.
"Your (Ghanem's) martyrdom is but an incentive to carry out the presidential election," added Gemayel, referring to a vote in parliament next Tuesday to replace the current pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud, whose mandate expires in November.
Apart from Gemayel, whose own son industry minister Pierre was slain last November, ruling majority leaders Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Samir Geagea and others attended the funeral held under tight security.
Gemayel said he feared the long-running crisis between the government and the opposition would lead to the country's division and charged that the standoff over the presidency was "just meant to end the Christian role at the top of the state."
Lebanon's presidency is traditionally reserved for the Maronites, the country's largest Christian community.
In an emotional eulogy, Ghanem's eldest daughter Mounia said: "I want to address the killer with my own sharp weapon -- prayer.
"My father dedicated his life to Lebanon until his martyrdom," she said.
After the ceremony, Ghanem's coffin, draped in the Lebanese and his Christian Phalange party flags, were taken for burial along with those of his two slain bodyguards.
Ghanem was buried in the cemetery of the nearby Furn el-Shebak neighbourhood.
Thousands of men, women and children, as well as foreign diplomats turned out for the funeral of the 64-year-old member of parliament.
Many wept and waved national or party flags as brass bands played to pay their last respects.
Women threw rice and rose petals from balconies as the cortege made its way from the mortuary of the Lebanese Canadian hospital, near the site of Wednesday's bomb blast that killed Ghanem and four others, to Furn el-Shebak.
"Ya habibi (my love), Ya habibi," cried out Ghanem's widow Lola as his coffin was carried out from the hospital.
"We are all desperate," said mourner Siham, in her 40s. "We can't keep burying martyrs. Is there no end to these assassinations?"
Flags flew at half mast and schools and businesses were shut after the government declared a day of official mourning for the funeral.
It was the second assassination to hit the Phalange party in the past 12 months, after Pierre Gemayel was gunned down last November.
Leaders from all sides of the political spectrum have vowed to go ahead with the controversial presidential vote on Tuesday despite the assassination which drew condemnation from around the world.
Pro-government MPs in Beirut have pointed a finger of blame at Syria, which denied any involvement and said the bombing was a "criminal act" aimed at undermining efforts at a rapprochement with Lebanon.
Fearing for his life, Ghanem and dozens of other MPs from the ruling majority had fled into exile following the assassination in June of another lawmaker. Ghanem had returned to Lebanon just three days before the attack on his life.
He was the eighth politician to be assassinated since the February 2005 murder of five-time prime minister and billionaire tycoon Rafiq Hariri.
The authorities have prepared emergency accommodation for fearful MPs in a special high-security wing of a luxury Beirut hotel.
Senior Phalangist official Joseph Abu Khalil said the attack was clearly aimed at cutting the number of pro-government MPs to derail the presidential election.
Ghanem's death reduced the government's support in parliament to 68 out of the remaining 127 MPs, with numbers set to play a key role in the vote.
Failure by the parties to choose a consensus candidate for the presidency could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the naming of two rival governments -- a grim reminder of the final years of the 1975-1990 civil war