12/02/2004, 00.00
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Maronite Bishops denounce pro-Syrian demo

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Lebanon's Christian Maronite church Wednesday denounced the Hezbollah-led demonstration held Tuesday in support of Syria's presence in Lebanon.

A statement issued by the Council of Maronite Bishops under the chairmanship of Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said, "We cannot have the street decide on major national issues that should be settled through dialogue between the various Lebanese factions." It denounced government sponsorship of the demonstration, accusing it of taking side with one faction against the other.

"It never happened before that the group which is in power demonstrates and protests, it is usually the people who demonstrate against the policies of those who are in power," the statement added.

Pro-Syrian groups marched Tuesday in the streets of Beirut to condemn the U.N. Security Council resolution which calls on Syria - without naming it - to pull out its estimated 16,000 troops from Lebanon. Marchers also showed support for the Syrian-backed regime of President Emile Lahoud.

The "march of the one million" which the government in the person of Prime Minister Omar Karami promised to be massive and overwhelming turned out to be much smaller than expected as most estimates placed the number of demonstrators at no more than 100,000. The demonstration was largely orchestrated, sponsored and organized by the government, which placed public services and facilities at the disposal of the demonstrators.

The march reflected the deep and wide political split in the country. Although the demonstration was described as a national manifestation it was only backed by Shiite groups such as Hizbullah and Amal movement and pro-Syria groups such as the Lebanon branch of Syria's ruling Arab Baath Party and the National Syrian Social Party (NSSP).

Days before, on Friday 26 November, former Army Commander General Michel Aoun urged the Lebanese to join FPM (Free Patriotic Movement)  students in a peaceful demonstration in Beirut's Central District in protest of Syrian occupation. "It is our right to protest," the general said, adding that the demonstration will be held under "international focus as all eyes are open and watching events in Lebanon in the wake of Resolution 1559."

A large majority of Christians are opposed to Syria's presence in Lebanon and their attempts to demonstrate their positions have been frustrated by the authorities.

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See also
Russia and US press Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon
Anti-Syrian demonstration defies government ban
People power sinks Karami government
Najib Mikati's government goes ahead
Sec of State Rice snubs Syria


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