02/21/2005, 00.00
LEBANON – SYRIA

Maronite Patriarch says Syria should withdraw in a situation of calm and dialogue

Christian demonstrators shout that today the revolt for independence has begun

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir today renewed his appeal to all Lebanese to stay calm after last week's attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Speaking before hundreds of people gathered in front of the Patriarch' residence in Bkerke, he repeated his invitation to all sectors of Lebanese society to engage in an open and honest dialogue. He also reiterated his full support for UN resolutions.

Among those present, many chanted anti-Syrian slogans such as 'Syria, out!" or "We want freedom, sovereignty and independence". Others shouted "We don't want Syrian Occupation" and "Today the revolt for independence has begun". Still others carried large photos of the late leader who was murdered last Monday in an attack that killed another 15 people.

In his speech to the crowd, Patriarch Sfeir stressed the need to enforce UN Resolution 1559 which calls for the withdrawal of foreign (i.e. Syrian) troops. He did so by telling his audience that reason must prevail since the country's problems "cannot be resolved by reactions and counter-reactions".  At the end, he raised a prayer to God so that "Good may triumph over evil."

In Beirut, in the meantime, thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown streets to honour the late leader. "We want to know the truth," they shouted in front of the UN offices.

Pierre Gemayel, a member of Lebanon's Parliament, said that "today a new Lebanon was born. We tell the international community that Lebanon cannot die. We are ready to renew direct talks between the opposition and Syria".

The demonstrators made their way to the Mouhamad el-Amin mosque where Hariri is buried. At the rally, which had been called by the leaders of the opposition, people expressed their sympathy to the family of the murdered Prime Minister. They protested against current Prime Minister Omar Karame and the Syrian presence in Lebanon demanding Hezbollah disarm and the 14,000 Syrian troops withdraw in accordance to the UN resolution.

At the reopening of parliament, many members arrived with a red band on an arm, the sign chosen by the opposition that met at the Bristol Hotel when Kornet Chehwan, Walid Jumblatt, followers of the late Rafik Hariri and those of General Michel Aoun, currently in exile in Paris, got together to plan their strategy.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri presided over the session which had only one topic: the political situation after Hariri's death.

Interior Minister Sleiman Franjiyeh told AsiaNews's correspondent in Beirut that that the authorities fully respect the right of citizens to demonstrate "without causing disorder". He confirmed his government's total willingness to collaborate with UN investigators as Speaker Berri had stated earlier. (YH)

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