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French Version

People power brings down Karami's Cabinet

Lebanon's government was swept from power Monday night in the face of a mass protest and increased political pressure sparked by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two weeks ago.

In the middle of a dramatic parliamentary session, Prime Minister Omar Karami shocked the House by suddenly announcing his government's resignation as it was defending itself against a vote of no confidence.

Karami said: "Out of concern that the government does not become an obstacle to the good of the country, I announce the resignation of the government I had the honor to lead. May God preserve Lebanon."

The shock announcement stunned Parliament but was followed by cheers from inside the chamber and outside in Martyrs' Square as the 25,000 people who had gathered there since late Sunday night watched the debate in Parliament live on large screens.

Leading opposition MP Walid Jumblatt said: "The people have won." Jumblatt was speaking from his home in Mukhtara, in the Chouf mountains, where he stayed yesterday due to security fears if he attended Parliament.

Opposition members said the resignation marked the "first success of the peaceful intifada" it waged on the government in the wake of Hariri's killing.

Following a meeting at the Hariri family home in Qoreitem, the coalition said: "The resignation is the first step toward finding out the entire truth about who decided, planned and executed the assassination of Hariri."

Ecstatic protesters chanted "Syria out" and "Freedom, sovereignty, independence."

They also chanted "Lahoud, your turn is next," in reference to the country's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

Jumblatt added the opposition was "ready for direct discussions with Syria at any moment," whom the Chouf MP called a "good neighbor."

He again called on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, but pointedly said it should be under the terms of the Taif Accord without mentioning UN Resolution 1559.

Speculation is rife that Syria is planning a withdrawal of the 15,000 troops it has stationed in Lebanon in the next few days as pressure on all sides intensifies in the wake of Friday's bomb attack in Tel Aviv which Israel has blamed Syria for.

The thousands gathered in Martyrs' Square, just yards from where Hariri was buried two weeks ago, defied an official ban on demonstrations.

Banks, schools and businesses had closed after an opposition call for an anti-Syrian general strike.

But in Karami's hometown of Tripoli one of his supporters was understood to have died from gunshot wounds after supporters of the former prime minister took the streets in protests.

Lahoud accepted the resignation a little later, although it was made clear that Karami did not pay a visit to the president beforehand to inform him of his decision contrary to the usual protocol.

In Parliament, opposition MPs wearing the red-and-white scarves that have come to symbolize their movement gave the announcement a standing ovation.

Opposition MP Ghattas Khoury, an ally of Hariri said: "The battle is long, and this is the first step. This is the battle for freedom, sovereignty and independence."

Following the prime minister's announcement, the opposition also demanded the resignation of State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum, Director General of the Surete Generale Major General Jamil Sayyed, Director General of the State Security Major General Edward Mansour, Director General of the Internal Security Forces Ali Hajj, head of military intelligence Raymond Azar, commander of the presidential guard Mustafa Hamdan and head of the Monitoring Agency in the Lebanese Intelligence Bureau Ghassan Tufeili.

Beirut 01-03-2005
Michael Glackin, Nada Raad and Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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