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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 17:45 GMT
Anti-Jospin protest in Lebanon

Protest in Baalbek
About 5,000 people joined the anti-Jospin protest

Thousands of Lebanese students have rallied in protest against remarks made by the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, describing Hezbollah attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon as terrorist acts.

More than 5,000 protesters waving banners and chanting anti-Jospin slogans marched through the town of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley 90km (55 miles) east of the capital Beirut.

Mr Jospin and Mr Barak Jospin's comments provoked anger in the Arab world
The historic town is a centre of support for the Hezbollah resistance movement, which is fighting to oust Israel from a swathe of land it occupies in southern Lebanon.

Neutral France

Mr Jospin triggered anger in Lebanon and the Arab world during a visit to Israel on Thursday, when he said: "France condemns Hezbollah's attacks, and all types of terrorist attacks which may be carried out against soldiers or possibly Israel's civilian population."

On Monday, Mr Chirac issued an assurance that France remains neutral in its Middle East policy and that its policy towards its former colony has not changed.

"We are friends of Lebanon. We still uphold our attitudes we have announced in the past years," Gerard Larche, deputy speaker of the French Senate, told reporters after meeting separately with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss on Monday.

"I conveyed a message from President Jacques Chirac, whom I met Saturday evening, affirming that France's firm policy toward Lebanon has not changed," he said.

Right to resist

His remarks came after Mr Hoss said he expected France to respect international agreements covering his country's sovereignty.

In a statement carried on Lebanese radio, Mr Hoss said he hoped to maintain good ties with Paris, despite the controversy that broke out at last week, while Mr Jospin was visiting Israel and the West Bank.

Mr Hoss said he expected France to reject Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory and to respect Lebanon's right to resist.

"We respect France's neutrality. But we hope that this will not amount to an equality between the oppressor and the oppressed, between the attacker and the attacked and between one who occupies others' land and one whose land is under occupation," Mr Hoss told reporters in Beirut.

French support

The president also noted that France, a former colonial power of Lebanon, was co-chair of a five-nation committee monitoring compliance with an agreement between Israel and guerrillas to protect civilians from fighting in south Lebanon.

France has long supported Beirut's moves to get Israel to pull its troops from southern Lebanon, in accordance with United Nations resolution 425, which calls for an unconditional withdrawal.

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See also:
26 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Picture gallery: Jospin pelted
25 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Hezbollah labels Jospin a 'racist'
15 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Barak wins vote on Lebanon
12 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Hezbollah vows to continue fight
11 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Dilemma facing Israeli army
08 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Gloves off in Lebanon
26 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Angry Palestinians stone French PM

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