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French Version

First phase of Syrian pullout near completion amid scuffles

Pro and anti-syria groups engage in fistfights
The first phase of the Syrian pullout from Lebanon is almost complete.

"It roughly ended," a Lebanese security source said Thursday, adding that there were only some logistics left to be worked out. However, the evacuation of the Syrian intelligence posts in the country was not completed peacefully.

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In North Lebanon, as soon as the Halba post was evacuated Wednesday, supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and disbanded Lebanese Forces Party (LF), raising Lebanese flags and shouting slogans of victory, headed to the monuments of Syrian Presidents Hafez Assad and his son Bashar in an attempt to remove them.

However, upon reaching the area, the groups were met by supporters of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Baath Party.

The confrontation that ensued soon turned into a fistfight, prompting the intervention of Lebanese Army intelligence units.

As a result of the scuffle, the two monuments were transferred from the Halba Square to the area's army-intelligence headquarters.

In Qobeiyat, similar clashes had also been reported late Tuesday when FPM and LF supporters shouted anti-Syrian slogans at a bus transporting Syrian intelligence personnel.

The armed passengers exited from the bus and tried to ward off the protestors and return to their posts until units of the Lebanese Army cordoned off the area and removed the demonstrators.

It has been widely reported that some 10,000 Syrian troops remain in the Bekaa Valley, while 4,000 have already crossed over into Syria.

Washington wants all Syrian troops and intelligence personnel out of Lebanon to allow "free and democratic" parliamentary elections to be held in May.

Syria evacuated its last intelligence posts in North Lebanon early Thursday, after the two remaining posts in Mar Maroun and Qobbah were emptied of the secret services' belongings and equipment.

Both posts were first occupied by Syrian intelligence agents in 1976.

On Wednesday, Lebanese citizens spent the night celebrating the final pullout of Syrian troops and intelligence from Hammana and Aley, Mount Lebanon.

Meanwhile, in South Lebanon, plainclothes security officials patrolled the roads of Tyre leading to the Bassel Assad Educational Center, while others patrolled President Hafez Assad Street, where a bust of the late Syrian president is erected.

Numerous incidents of vandalism have been reported throughout the country, the most recent coming Wednesday night when unidentified perpetrators tore up portraits of Kamal Jumblatt, father of Progressive Socialist Party President Walid Jumblatt.

The elder Jumblatt was assassinated on March 16, 1977.

On the occasion of the passing of 28 years since the assassination, the Progressive Socialist Party had posted portraits of their leader and lit candles in the Kamal Jumblatt Square in Tyre.

Investigations into the incident were opened but failed to stop further vandalism Thursday. Pedestrians walking along the road were shocked at the sight of the "Martyr Kamal Jumblatt" street sign painted completely black.

Tyre Mayor Abdel-Mohsen Husseini, who reported the incident to the Internal Security Forces, denounced the act as "childish" and targeting national symbols, blaming the act on the same people who destroyed Assad's statue in Qana.

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Beirut 21-03-2005
Mohamed Zaatari
The Daily Star

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