As Syria Exits Beirut, Can a Pro-Syrian President Remain? ; Lahoud under Pressure as Syria Finished the First Phase of Its Pullout Thursday

By Nicholas Blanford Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

As Syria Exits Beirut, Can a Pro-Syrian President Remain? ; Lahoud under Pressure as Syria Finished the First Phase of Its Pullout Thursday


Nicholas Blanford Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Buoyed by Monday's massive anti-Syrian rally, which drew as many as 1 million flag-waving protesters, the Lebanese opposition has turned its attention squarely on Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon.

As his Syrian backers leave Beirut in growing numbers, and he's unable to build a new government, the future for Mr. Lahoud looks increasingly shaky.

The opposition demands that Mr. Lahoud quit his office along with seven top security chiefs whom they blame for last month's murder of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister.

Those calls are being supported by many independent political figures who say that only the departure of Lahoud and the security chiefs will spare this tiny Mediterranean nation from further political and economic turmoil.

"Whatever happens, the political impasse continues unless Lahoud resigns," says Chibli Mallat, a professor of international law at Beirut's St. Joseph University and a democracy campaigner. "We are working to widen the message that the people gave on Monday. We won the battle of sovereignty now we need to win the battle of democracy."

In an apparent response to the pressure, Brigadier General Jamil Sayyed, the powerful head of the General Security Directorate, and one of the seven security chiefs named by the opposition, announced Thursday that he and his colleagues would make themselves available for a judicial inquiry into Mr. Hariri's murder.

"All chiefs of the security organs are ready to stand trial because we don't have any secrets," General Sayyed told a news conference.

The political deadlock comes as a Lebanese Army officer confirmed Thursday that Syria has completed the first phase of a redeployment that will eventually see the withdrawal of all Syrian soldiers and military intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Syria first began redeploying its troops on March 8 after the Feb. 14 assassination of Hariri, whose death in a powerful explosion brought intense international pressure on Damascus to remove its 14,000 troops from Lebanon. It also sparked huge street demonstrations both for and against Syrian involvement.

The first part of the two-phase withdrawal involved the redeployment of the remaining Syrian forces in Beirut, in Tripoli in the north, and in the mountains above the capital to east of the Hammana-Mdeirej-Ain Dara line that runs along the mountain ridge separating the Lebanese coast from the Bekaa Valley.

According to the Lebanese Army officer, about 4,000 Syrian soldiers have returned to Syria. "There are now between 9,000 and 10,000 Syrian troops in the Bekaa," he says.

The duration of their stay in the Bekaa will be resolved at a meeting of senior Syrian and Lebanese Army officers scheduled for April 7. The international community has demanded a full withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon before parliamentary elections which are due to be held before the end of May.

But the political paralysis has cast into doubt whether elections can be held at all.

Omar Karami, the Lebanese prime minister, began consultations with parliamentarians on Tuesday to form a new government, so far without success. Mr. Karami resigned from the premiership on Feb. 28 in the face of mass protests in the streets of Beirut. But he was reappointed by Lahoud two weeks later when no other alternative candidate for the premiership came forward.

Still, Karami has declared that he will resign again if he is unable to create a government of national unity which includes members of the opposition. …

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