Lebanese Opposition Softens Demands
Lebanese Opposition Softens Lahoud Demand
1 hour, 11 minutes ago
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Seeking a way out of political
deadlock, the anti-Syrian opposition softened its tone
Monday and urged Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami
to form a new government to ensure parliamentary
elections are held on time.
Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt shelved for now his
demand that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud step
down immediately. But a waterborne demonstration
Monday showed the opposition's rank-and-file have not
give up their demands for Lahoud to resign.
About 200 opposition supporters staged a protest in
some 50 speedboats and yachts in the St. Georges Hotel
marina, near the site of a massive explosion that
killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 17
others on Feb. 14 and set off intense anti-Syrian
protests in the country.
In boats festooned with colorful streamers, Lebanese
flags and portraits of Hariri, the demonstrators
hoisted a huge banner demanding "Lahoud's resignation
They chanted the opposition rallying cry � "Freedom,
sovereignty, independence and truth" � a demand for
Syria to withdraw all its troops from Lebanon and for
an independent inquiry to uncover the perpetrators of
the Hariri's assassination.
Jumblatt, who leads the Druse community, indicated in
interviews Sunday and Monday that the opposition now
wants the pro-Syrian Karami to form a government to
enable parliamentary elections to take place on time.
Karami has been trying to form a government of
national unity, but Jumblatt and the opposition have
rejected his overtures, insisting all Syrian troops
leave Lebanon, pro-Syrian security chiefs are
dismissed and an international inquiry into Hariri's
assassination is appointed.
Karami, who was forced out of office by street
demonstrations last month, still commands a majority
in the Lebanese parliament. However, the opposition
believes it will shift the political balance in the
staggered elections, which are due to begin in April
and go through May.
Jumblatt told supporters at his mountain residence
south of Beirut on Sunday that the opposition's
priority is elections, and in order for a vote to take
place, there has to be a government.
"Later, after we win the elections, there will be a
new government. I will then advise President Lahoud to
step down, and then there will be a new regime, a new
president and a new government," he said.
The strategy means Jumblatt has dropped his demand for
the immediate departure of Lahoud, who has rebuffed
such calls. Jumblatt confirmed this to reporters in
Cairo, where he met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
(news - web sites) on Monday.
Jumblatt also drew attention to the challenges the
opposition would face if it wins power.
"Our neighbors have occupied and polluted every corner
of the public sector � education, health care,
economic institutions," Jumblatt said in an interview
published in Monday's edition of the Italian newspaper
"Cleaning up Lebanon of Syrian pollution is going to
be more difficult than seeing the Damascus army
outside our borders," he added.
Syria came under massive international and domestic
pressure to withdraw its 14,000 troops in Lebanon
after Hariri's assassination. Last week, it completed
the withdrawal of 4,000 troops to Syria, with the
remaining 10,000 being redeployed to Lebanon's eastern
Early next month, Lebanese and Syrian generals are due
to set a date for the full withdrawal of Syrian troops
from Lebanon. The United Nations (news - web sites)
and the United States have demanded a full withdrawal
Although Syria and its Lebanese allies in government
denied any role in Hariri's assassination, the killing
highlighted Syria's long domination of Lebanon. The
Syrian troops, which first entered the country during
the 1975-90 civil war, made Damascus the power broker
of Lebanese politics.