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Arab League Official: Syria Troops Out of Lebanon Soon

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-lebanon-syria,0,1519355.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines Official: Syria Troops Out of Lebanon Soon
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 21, 2005
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      http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-lebanon-syria,0,1519355.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines

      Official: Syria Troops Out of Lebanon Soon

      By Associated Press

      February 21, 2005, 9:39 AM EST

      DAMASCUS, Syria -- The Arab League chief said Monday
      that Syria will "soon" take steps to withdraw its army
      from Lebanese areas in accordance with a 1989
      agreement.

      The announcement by Arab League Secretary-General Amr
      Moussa came after a meeting with Syrian President
      Bashar Assad.

      "Assad stressed more than once his firm determination
      to go on with implementing the Taif agreement and
      achieve Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in accordance
      with this agreement," Moussa said.

      "Syrian withdrawal is part of Syrian policy and will
      see steps in this direction very soon," Moussa quoted
      Assad as saying.

      The 1989 agreement signed in Taif, Saudi Arabia, ended
      the civil war that had started in 1975. Among other
      things, it called for Syrian forces, which had entered
      Lebanon ostensibly to separate the warring sides, to
      withdraw within two years to the eastern Bekaa Valley
      near the Syrian border.

      In Beirut, tens of thousands of opposition supporters
      shouted insults at Syria and demanded the resignation
      of their pro-Syrian government in a demonstration
      Monday, marking a week since the assassination of
      former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

      Beating drums and waving Lebanese flags, those of
      their own parties and portraits of past leaders killed
      during the 1975-90 civil war, the protesters gathered
      at the site where Hariri was killed Feb. 14 in a
      bombing that the opposition blames on Damascus.

      Some in the crowd yelled "Syria out!" and "We don't
      want a parliament that acts as a doorkeeper for the
      Syrians," competing with loud insults shouted against
      Syrian President Bashar Assad.

      Protesters wore scarves of red and white -- the colors
      of Lebanon's flag -- which have become the symbol of
      the opposition's "independence uprising," described as
      a peaceful campaign to dislodge the pro-Syrian
      government and force the Syrian army out of Lebanon.

      Some protesters carried banners reading,
      "Independence," and chanted, "The government of
      puppets must fall" and "Enough blood, leave us alone."

      The crowd was estimated in the tens of thousands, with
      many converging on downtown Beirut from all parts of
      the Lebanese capital.

      "It is my civic duty as a Lebanese to take part in
      this uprising," said Youssef Mukhtar, a 47-year-old
      engineer. "Enough bloodshed and disasters. It is the
      21st century, and people should be able to govern
      themselves. The situation has become unbearable and we
      have to regain our country."

      Many held pictures of Hariri and sang patriotic songs.
      Some protesters held a copy of the Quran in one hand
      and the cross in another hand to signify
      Muslim-Christian national unity.

      Police and army troops in full battle gear stood guard
      without intervening, blocking roads with metal
      barriers. To prevent more potential protesters from
      reaching Beirut, security forces set up checkpoints on
      the northern and eastern entrances to the Lebanese
      capital.

      The protest reached its peak shortly before 12:55
      p.m., the time that Hariri's motorcade was blown up,
      killing him and 16 other people and wounding more than
      100. The protesters, chanting "All for the Nation,"
      the national anthem, observed a moment of silence at
      the exact time of the bombing and then began
      converging on the U.N. offices in the downtown Riad
      Solh Square to hand a letter to representatives of
      U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

      On the way, the protesters marched by the nearby Grand
      Serail, the prime minister's office, shouting "Syria
      out!" and "We don't want an army in Lebanon except
      that of Lebanon!"

      The protesters then marched to Hariri's grave outside
      the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque at the central Martyrs'
      Square and sang the national anthem. "We want the
      truth," said one speaker.

      On Sunday, Lebanon said it would cooperate with U.N.
      investigators looking into the assassinations, but
      stuck to its rejection of a full-fledged international
      inquiry.

      At the same time the Beirut protest was making its way
      to the grave, about 500 Lebanese in Kuwait gathered
      near their country's embassy, where they stood for a
      moment's silence in front of a large poster of Hariri.

      "What we want is an international committee to uncover
      the truth," said Marwan Jamal, a business consultant,
      39. "Nobody should think we are divided."

      Hariri's killing shook Lebanon and sparked an
      outpouring of sympathy for the man credited with
      rebuilding the country from the destruction of civil
      war, cutting across the sectarian divide.

      Hariri was one of the architects of the 1989 Taif
      agreement that ended Lebanon's civil war, which
      started in 1975. It called for Syrian forces -- which
      had entered Lebanon ostensibly to separate between the
      warring sides -- to withdraw within two years to the
      eastern Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. A total
      withdrawal was to be discussed between the Lebanese
      and Syrian governments at a later stage.

      Syrian forces have redeployed several times since
      2000, leaving Beirut and the coastline. Syria
      currently maintains about 15,000 troops in Lebanon.
      Syria's critics in Lebanon have said the withdrawals
      were tactical and demanded a total pullout and an end
      to Syrian military intelligence involvement in the
      country's politics.

      * __

      Associated Press reporters Zeina Karam and Bassem
      Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.
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