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French Version

Nasrallah warns U.S. to stop interfering in Lebanon

Hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Beirut to hear the leader of the Lebanese resistance group Hizbullah warn the United States to stop interfering in Lebanon and denounce a UN resolution demanding the withdrawal of Syria's army and the disarming of militant groups.

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In what was widely labelled a "pro-Syrian" demonstration, Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah thanked Syria for its sacrifices in Lebanon, and firmly rejected UN Resolution 1559, which he said was Israeli-inspired.

But he pointedly failed to say that Syrian troops should remain on Lebanese soil in a move that many observers interpreted as a concession to Lebanese opposition demands for their withdrawal.

Instead Nasrallah said Hizbullah supported the Taif Accord, which provides a framework for Syrian withdrawal.

He said: "The troop withdrawal must happen according to the mechanism of the Taif Accord. The governments of the two countries alone have the right to set the suitable timetable for the troops' withdrawal."

He added: "The Taif Accord is our only salvage to ensure the unity of the country and people. We must not only support the part of Taif that deal with the Syrian troops final withdrawal."

He added that Syria's physical departure from Lebanon would not remove it from the "hearts and souls" of the Lebanese people.

He said: "It was God's wish that Syria and Lebanon are natural neighboring countries. We must understand the implications of the geopolitics that what happens in one country would influence the other."

The crowds swarmed into Beirut's Riad Solh Square coming from all parts of Lebanon waving Lebanese flags and and chanting anti American and pro-Syrian slogans.

Two huge vertical banners at the front of the square read, in English: "Thank you Syria" and "No to foreign interference," a reference to American, French and UN pressure to force Syrian troops out of the country.

Many observers interpreted Nasrallah's powerful speech as an attempt to forge a role for Hizbuallh as broker between the two opposing pro-government and anti-Syrian political factions in Lebanon.

Addressing Lebanon's political opposition, which has so far dominated political events since Hariri's death, Nasrallah said: "The other party holds different views than ours, which we respect. But we must withdraw the dialogue from the street and take it to where it belongs. Either we argue within a national unity government or else keep the dialogue at a roundtable for as long as it takes."

Nasrallah also told the opposition "not to stay behind" and miss the parliamentary consultations and warned that the country could not go on without a government for much longer.

He said it was time now for a government of national unity to be formed and dismissed opposition calls for a "neutral government."

Nasrallah also called for those responsible for the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri to be brought to justice.

But in a barely concealed swipe at the opposition he said: "Martyred Hariri was a great national asset and his death produced a greater national loss to all Lebanese. We hope all parties stop exploiting this tragedy in political swindling."

Several party leaders and former ministers also addressed the crowd.
Former minister Ayoub Humayed addressed the crowds on behalf of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal Movement, the second largest Shiite party.

To wild cheers Ayoub said: "You came to this rally to rebuff the attempts of the Americans and other foreign powers to impose their mandate on our country."

Gebran Araiji, leader of the Social National Syrian Party, added: "The cause of the people revolves around whether the role and identity of Lebanon follows Arab nationalism and Syria or the American-Israeli strategy."

Criticizing some of the opposition's stances, former Zghorta MP, Estephan Dweihi representing the outgoing Interior Minister, Suleiman Franjieh, said: "Some forces drove the country into a civil war in 1975 under the pretext of preventing the Palestinian refugees from settling in Lebanon. How we can explain why the same forces are plotting with some world powers to settle them now?"

Nasrallah said this rally could be the last one if the other party chooses dialogue over street rallies.

However, in case the opposition refused to heed to his call, Nasrallah said that other rallies would be taking place in a different city every two or three days.

He said: "We would not ask the people to travel to other areas but to join the rally in their own districts."

The next rally is set for Friday in the Northern city of Tripoli, the home of outgoing Premier Omar Karami, and another will be held in Nabatieh in the South on Sunday.

Commenting on the large scale anti-government demonstrations Nasrallah said: "Unlike Western democracy, Lebanon can survive only through reaching a national consensus, without which we all lose. So there is no point in comparing sizes and numbers between this rally and the other party's rally in Martyrs' Square."

A youth was taken to hospital last night after being beaten by club-wielding men carrying Syrian flags in the latest violent incident between anti- and pro-Syrian followers.

The incident took place in the eastern Christian suburb of Furn al-Shebbak.

In another incident in nearby Ain al-Remmaneh, fighting broke out after men in cars bearing Syrian flags drove through the area honking their horns and insulting youths standing along the streets, police said.

"It is not the first time that men carrying Syrian flags pass by the neighborhood to provoke the youngsters here, and actually they have been also driving by and firing shots in the air at night," a police officer said.

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Beirut 09-03-2005
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star

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