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Lebanese Opposition Softens Demands

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050321/ap_on_re_mi_ea/lebanon_syria&e=4&ncid=535 Lebanese Opposition Softens Lahoud Demand 1 hour, 11
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 21, 2005

      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
      La Stampa.

      "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
      Bekaa Valley.

      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
      before elections.

      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.
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