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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 18:56 GMT
Lebanon MPs demand Syria pullout
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt
Druze leader Jumblatt hosted the opposition talks at his home
Lebanese opposition leaders have demanded the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the immediate resignation of Lebanese security chiefs.

They said the moves had to precede any talks with Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud on forming a government.

Prominent Druze leader Walid Jumblatt announced the list of demands after hosting a meeting of opposition groups to discuss a common strategy.

The government resigned on Monday in the face of anti-Syrian protests.

Prime Minister Omar Karami's government quit after two weeks of protests over the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Crisis talks

The leaders of the various opposition groups held talks hosted by Mr Jumblatt at his home east of the capital, Beirut, on how to react to the ongoing political crisis.

SYRIA IN LEBANON
Military intervention begins in 1976
30,000 troops in Lebanon during 1980s, currently 15,000
Syrian forces crucial in ending the Lebanese civil war in 1990 and maintaining peace
Calls for departure of the Syrians increase gradually with Israeli withdrawal in 2000
UN resolution calling for withdrawal of all foreign forces passed in Sept 2004

"The... step that the opposition considers essential in its demands on the road to salvation and independence is the total withdrawal of the Syrian army and intelligence service from Lebanon," they said in a statement.

The opposition also called for "a Syrian response through an official announcement to be issued by the president of the Arab Syrian Republic [Bashar al-Assad] to withdraw" its forces.

Mr Jumblatt said the opposition would only take part in discussions on forming a new government after Mr Lahoud accepted the demands.

Some MPs want Mr Lahoud himself to quit, saying he is too close to Syria, which still dominates much of Lebanon.

Hariri inquiry

Popular protests continued in Beirut on Wednesday.

But reports said only a few hundred people remained in Martyrs' Square, in contrast with the 25,000 or more who were there on Monday. The rallies have focused on demands for Syria to withdraw its 15,000 troops and to stop other interference in Lebanon.

President Assad told a US magazine that a military pullout could begin "very soon", but Mr Jumblatt and Israeli officials responded with scepticism, saying they wanted action rather than words.

Damascus is also coming under increasing pressure from outside the region, with US President George W Bush leading Western calls for Syria to cut its influence in Lebanon.

The protesters in Beirut have also been calling for an international inquiry into the killing of Mr Hariri in a massive car bombing last month.

The body of another victim of the blast was recovered from the debris in central Beirut on Wednesday, 16 days after the attack.




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