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MPs call for Lebanese 'uprising'


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MPs call for Lebanese 'uprising'

Lebanon's opposition has called for an peaceful "independence uprising" and said the government should step down.

The opposition holds both the Lebanese and Syrian governments responsible for the assassination on Monday of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hariri's death in an explosion in Beirut has sparked anti-Syrian feeling.

Tourism Minister Farid al-Khazen resigned on Friday, saying the government was unable to "remedy the dangerous situation in the country".

He said his decision was in line with his convictions and his "obligation to the nation".

Opposition demands

There have been calls for the whole cabinet to resign over Hariri's death.

After a long meeting in a Beirut hotel on Friday, the opposition said sit-ins should be held until the "illegitimate regime" resigned.

They also called for the suspension of political and legal debates in parliament until "the truth is uncovered" about Hariri's death.

The opposition says it wants a representative government to be formed which would then oversee the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

The opposition had discussed whether its 40 deputies should resign en masse from the 128-member parliament. The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says they opted to stay on to ensure they have a hand in drawing a new electoral law ahead of legislative elections due in May.

The meeting was not attended by the leading opposition figure, Walid Jumblatt. He stayed away for "security reasons", aides said.

It was not clear what form of protest the opposition's hoped-for uprising would take.

Pro-government officials described the opposition's call as undemocratic.

The Damascus authorities have denied involvement in the bombing, which killed Hariri and 14 others.

Crowds of Lebanese of all religious faiths have been gathering at Hariri's grave since his funeral on Wednesday.

For many Lebanese, Hariri - a self-made billionaire businessman - symbolised the revival of their country after years of bloody civil war.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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Beirut protesters denounce Syria

Thousands of Lebanese protesters have gathered in Beirut, a week after the killing of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The protesters, led by opposition figures, shouted slogans blaming Syria for the killing.

Security forces have closed off most of the capital's central area and set up checkpoints on approaches to the city.

A BBC correspondent says it is one of Lebanon's biggest public protests for years. Many companies and schools have shut for the day to let people attend.

Correspondents say Hariri's assassination has heightened tension over Syria's political and military sway in Lebanon and has to international pressure for Syria to pull out of its smaller neighbour.

'Independence uprising'

Police stopped buses from reaching the capital from the north and east but most protesters continued on foot.

The opposition observed a five-minute silence at 1055 GMT, the moment of the blast that killed Hariri and some 15 other people a week ago.

At the same time there was also an official one-minute's silence for the former prime minister, with TV and radio stations broadcasting the national anthem.

Many protesters out on the streets wore red and white scarves, symbolising the opposition's "independence uprising", which it describes as a peaceful campaign to dislodge the pro-Syrian Lebanese government and force out the 15,000 troops Syria keeps in Lebanon.

"It is my civic duty as a Lebanese to take part in this uprising," said one protester Youssef Mukhtar, quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

"Enough bloodshed and disasters. It is the 21st Century, and people should be able to govern themselves. The situation has become unbearable and we have to regain our country," he added.

War of words

Stepping up pressure on Syria, US President George W Bush repeated his call for Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon.

Speaking at the start of a five-day visit to Europe, Mr Bush said: "Just as the Syrian regime must take stronger action to stop those who support violence and subversion in Iraq - and must end its support for terrorist groups seeking to destroy the hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians - Syria must also end its occupation of Lebanon."

The European Union has added to a call by the US for an international investigation into the killing in a massive car bomb last Monday.

"There has to be an independent probe, given a high-level of suspicion about the potential involvement of Syria in the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri," said UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Lebanon's Syrian-backed government says it will co-operate with a UN investigation team due to arrive this week, but has rejected calls for a full international inquiry.

Arab League head Amr Moussa - who has been holding talks in Damascus to ease the tension - said Syria would soon take steps towards withdrawing troops from Lebanon.

"President Assad stressed more than once his firm determination to go on with implementing the Taif agreement and achieve Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, in accordance with this agreement," Mr Moussa said, referring to the 1989 deal which brought the civil war to an end.

But in an interview with the BBC, Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah said Mr Moussa had misunderstood the Syrian leader.

Mr Dakhlallah said Syria's position was that there would only be a redeployment of Syrian forces within Lebanon.

Hariri - who, with Syria's backing, had served as prime minister for 10 of the last 12 years - resigned in October in a row over Syrian interference.

Ministers and government politicians said talks with opposition figures were scheduled for Monday, an apparent effort to defuse the war of words over the killing.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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