[Marxism] Lebanon PM back after pro-Hezbollah masses use THEIR right to protest

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Mar 10 09:59:13 MST 2005

Pro-Syrian Lebanese Premier Reappointed 

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 10, 2005; 10:31 AM 

AMMAN, Jordan, March 10 -- Only 10 days after the Lebanese opposition
celebrated his resignation, the pro-Syrian legislator Omar Karami
returned as prime minister Thursday in a sign of how swiftly the
political winds have shifted during the recent weeks of street protests.

But Karami, returning to the post for the third time, suggested he would
not form a new government unless opposition legislators agree to play a
role in his cabinet. His announcement represented a conciliatory gesture
toward the Lebanese opposition, which had celebrated Karami's abrupt
departure as the most notable achievement of its three-week uprising
against the country's pro-Syrian political leadership. 

"The difficulties we all know cannot be confronted without a government
of national unity and salvation," Karami said during a news conference
following his reappointment in Beirut, the Lebanese capital. "We will
extend our hand and wait for the other side." 

Karami's position appeared to serve as a challenge to Lebanese
opposition leaders, now focusing on the best way to insure fair
elections in the spring that they hope could usher in a government less
aligned with Syria. But it appeared Thursday that opposition leaders
were uniformly against joining Karami's government, which several of
them said they doubted would ever be formed. 

Although conciliatory at times, Karami also made clear that the
political momentum had shifted since he resigned Feb. 28 after a heated
no-confidence debate in parliament and hours of raucous protests in
Martyrs' Square marking the two-week anniversary of former prime
minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination. The enormous pro-Syrian rally
earlier this week in central Beirut had "shown that we are in the
majority," Karami said during the news conference. 

"It was a massive demonstration that asserted our legitimacy in the
Lebanese street," Karami said. 

The rally was organized by the militant Shiite Muslim party Hezbollah,
and dwarfed opposition demonstrations to date. More than a dozen other
pro-Syrian groups took part, and regional demonstrations have been
scheduled for this weekend in cities in the north and south of the

Hezbollah maintains a vast social-services network as well as an armed
wing of roughly 20,000 militants along Lebanon's southern border. It is
the only militia left over from Lebanon's 15-year sectarian civil war.
The party was allowed to keep its guns under the 1989 peace agreement
that ended the fighting because Israel still occupied south Lebanon at
the time. The Israeli army completed its withdrawal in 2000 after years
of battling Hezbollah militants. 

In a non-binding decision, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly
Thursday to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The vote
could lead to restrictions against the group, if European Union
ministers follow the parliament's recommendation. The Bush
administration considers both the party and its satellite television
channel terrorist groups. 

Karami received a clear endorsement from Lebanon's pro-Syrian parliament
a day earlier, and made clear Thursday he would also have won the
confidence vote that was never taken on the day he resigned. President
Emile Lahoud, whose own term was extended by the Lebanese parliament
last year under Syrian pressure, was bound by parliament's nomination.
He asked Karami Thursday to form a government. 

"If there is no national unity government and if I am the obstacle, then
I am ready to bow out," said Karami, who added that he hopes to begin
consulting with opposition legislators next week on the composition of a

The opposition alliance of Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim parties
that has come together since Hariri's assassination must now weigh
whether to join the government until the parliamentary elections or hold
out until its political demands are met. The elections must be held
before the end of May. 

Opposition leaders have called for the complete withdrawal before the
elections of Syria's estimated 14,000 troops from Lebanon and its
intelligence services, which many members of the opposition blame for
Hariri's death. Syrian troops have begun to pull back to the eastern
Bekaa Valley in recent days, but no timeline has been set for the next
phase of their retreat to the border. The U.N. Security Council, pushed
by the United States and France, has also demanded Syria's immediate

Reuters Television aired footage Thursday of Syrian military vehicles
crossing Lebanon's northern border into Syria in the first sign some
soldiers may be heading back. While troop movement is expected to
continue through the month as part of the redeployment's first phase,
there has been no sign that several known Syrian intelligence
headquarters in Beirut and Tripoli are being evacuated. 

In recent weeks, opposition leaders have said they would not join a new
government until Lahoud fires the heads of Lebanon's security services
and allows an independent international investigation to be conducted
into Hariri's murder. A United Nations committee has begun looking into
the bombing that killed Hariri and 16 others, but it has no ability to
gather evidence outside the government's own inquiry. 

Opposition leaders gathered Thursday to consider their response to
Karami's reappointment. Karami, a Sunni Muslim, served as prime minister
for 16 months in the early 1990s until protests over an economic crisis
forced his resignation. When Hariri resigned as prime minister last
fall, largely in protest over Lahoud's term extension, Karami was named
to the post. 

Under Lebanon's post-war system that apportions political power among
the country's three largest religious groups, the prime minister's job
is held by a Sunni, the presidency by a Maronite Christian, and the
parliamentary speaker by a Shiite. Each exercises a near-equal portion
of power, although the president maintains control of the armed forces. 

C 2005 The Washington Post Company 

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