The international community voiced its shock at the assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a leading member of the anti-Syrian bloc, with the finger of suspicion pointing at neighboring Damascus.
European leaders said the murder was intended to destabilize the region
Gemayel, a 34-year-old Christian Maronite politician, was critically wounded following an attack by gunmen in a Beirut suburb on Tuesday and died soon afterwards in a nearby hospital.
Germany viewed the assassination of the anti-Syrian minister as an attack on democracy and condemned it in the strongest terms, according to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"Today's attack is clearly another attempt to sabotage the development of an independent, sovereign and democratic Lebanon," Steinmeier said in a statement on Tuesday. "The German government condemns the attack in the strongest terms. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim."
Calls for restraint, unity after murder
Steinmeier called on Middle East governments to remain calm
Steinmeier also called for restraint from all powers in the Middle East.
"I call on all powers in Lebanon and the region to honor their responsibilities and to refrain from anything that could destabilize the domestic political situation in Lebanon."
UN chief Kofi Annan condemned what he called a "cold-blooded murder" and urged all Lebanese parties to maintain national unity.
"Acts of terrorism undermine Lebanon's stability, are unacceptable and have no place in a democratic and open society," he said.
Former colonial power France called this latest attack on anti-Damascus officials a "new attempt to destabilize" Lebanon.
So did Syria itself, which said Gemayel's murder was an "an odious crime ... aimed at destabilizing Lebanon and disturbing the civil peace."
It vowed to ensure "the security of Lebanon, its stability and unity of its people and to preserve its civil peace."
Security Council backs international tribunal
Saad Hariri said he blames Syria for the assassination
The son of murdered former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, however, accused Damascus of being behind this new assassination.
Saad Hariri, the head of the anti-Syrian majority in the Lebanese parliament, said he believed Tuesday's killing was linked to an expected decision by the UN Security Council to create an international tribunal to try his father's suspected killers.
Just hours after Gemayel's death on Tuesday, the UN Security Council endorsed a blueprint for the international tribunal tasked with trying suspects in Hariri's murder, pending approval by Lebanese authorities, the UN's French ambassador said.
Jean-Marc de la Sabliere told reporters that the council's 15 members had approved a letter, to be sent to Annan, signaling their endorsement of the plan for a UN-backed tribunal to try suspects in the slaying of Hariri in Beirut.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana denounced Tuesday's "cowardly" murder and demanded that the killers be prosecuted.
"Lebanon has once again paid a high price for its wish to live in peace and independence," he noted.
The European Union also reiterated its "full support" for the Lebanese government.