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French Version

Aoun's supporters exalt his return and back him for post of president

'He is going to save us, he is going to save Lebanon'

Women ululated, men wept and youths hugged when Lebanon's anti-Syria politician appeared behind bullet-proof glass on Saturday to address tens of thousands of screaming supporters welcoming him back after more than a decade of exile.

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For Michel Aoun's supporters seeing him in Lebanon was a dream come true. For 15 years they had been arrested, banned from protesting and beaten up many times by pro-Syrian security.

Dressed in the colors of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, many of them, including some too young to remember Aoun or his role in the Lebanese war, called him the country's new president.

The general's return was an emotional one to his family, with his brother, Antoine, saying he had waited for this moment for the past 15 years.

He told The Daily Star with tears in his eyes: "Following his exile, I took an oath not to meet my brother anywhere but in Lebanon. God has finally granted me this wish."

"He is going to save us, he is going to save Lebanon from corruption, occupation and will lead us with our heads up high," said Layal Najm, 21, wearing a shirt with Aoun's image and carrying an orange flag, the color of his Free Patriotic Movement.

"Now he is back, which was the first step, what we want now is him to be our president. No one deserves it more than him," she added.

"He suffered with us in his exile and now we will reward him by giving him our support for presidency," computer engineer Jad Abs said.

The Maronite Christian former general, dressed in gray suit and blue tie, received a rapturous welcome in Beirut's Martyrs' Square from ecstatic supporters waving Lebanese flags.

The square has been the scene of anti-Syrian rallies in the past three months.

"General, general," the crowds chanted as Aoun waved to them. A number of Lebanese artists sang and performed the traditional celebratory dabke.

Joelle Shamoun was only seven months old when Aoun was forced into exile, but when she saw him addressing the crowds she wept.

"It is a dream. I was raised hearing his speeches and listening to my parents talk about him. I feel so close to him."

Aoun's defeat at the hands of a Syrian-led assault on his powerbase in and around Beirut on October 13, 1990, marked the end of the civil war.

He sought refuge at the French Embassy and left Lebanon several months later. But his popularity did not fade.

Aoun still enjoys support among many Christians who see in him a leader who is not corrupt and who stood up against Syrian and Lebanese militias despite the odds. Detractors say his military gambles led to the defeat of the Maronites in the war.

Aoun has indicated he might seek to become president.

"Let's say I am not a candidate but if I am chosen I will assume my responsibilities," he told France Internationale radio before leaving Paris.

Deniz Karam, a mother whose son was killed in Lebanon's war, said: "Today my son is brought back to life, he believed in him [Aoun] and fought with him on October 13 and died. Today I feel he did not die for nothing but for free Lebanon."

"For 15 years I was waiting for this day. I always prayed to God not to take my soul until I saw the general on Lebanese soil," said Samira Kutaish, a veiled Muslim.

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Beirut 08-05-2005
The Daily Star

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